Netherlands study also finds diversity challenging for social capital in short-term

Confirming one portion of Robert Putnam’s much discussed *E Pluribus Unum* study, a researcher (Jaap Dronkers, Chair of the Social Stratification and Inequality Program at the European University Institute in the
Department of Political and Social Sciences, Italy) found similar results to Putnam’s in the Netherlands — that diversity poses challenges for social capital. [Putnam's *E Pluribus Unum* article also discussed the manifold benefits of diversity and discussed strategies for building stronger bonds over the longer-term through this diversity and optimism that we could do so.]

Abstract of paper: “Putnam (2007) claims that in the short run ethnic diversity tends to reduce solidarity and social capital: in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, residents of all ethnicities tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even in one’s own ethnic group) is lower, altruism and community cooperation is more rare, friends fewer. This study replicates Putnam’s analysis for a West-European country. Furthermore, by including the ethnicity of the respondent’s neighbors, a sub-neighborhood level measure of ethnic diversity is added to the analyses. With data from the Netherlands (N=5,757), using multi-level regression, we confirm Putnam’s claim and find that both for immigrants and native residents 1) neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity reduces individual trust in neighborhoods; 2) those with neighbors of a different ethnicity have less trust in neighborhoods and neighbors 3) a substantial part of the effect of neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity on individual trust can be explained by the higher propensity of having neighbors of a different ethnicity. We conclude that ethnic diversity can have a negative effect on individual trust. However, we do not find these negative effects of neighborhoods’ or neighbors ethnic diversity on inter-ethnic trust.”  Jaap Dronkers et al. focused on Netherlands since these were the only data within the European Union that they knew of that contained both a measurement of individual trust and the zip code or census tract of the respondent.

Here is direct link to the paper “Ethnic diversity in neighbourhoods and individual trust of immigrants and natives: A replication of Putnam (2007) in a West-European country.”

While we have not seen the results, we have been told that UK data from the Home Office Citizenship Survey (now called the Citizenship Survey) also shows a strongly significant relationship between respondent’s trust of neighbors (regardless of their race) and ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, controlling for all the standard controls at the individual and neighborhood level.

Note: some European studies recently assert to find contrary findings to Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum” article, but are completely inapposite. Since information on the diversity of various neighborhoods is very hard to come by, many studies erroneously simply substitute a “national” level of diversity. See: Marc Hooghe et al (Ethnic Diversity, Trust and Ethnocentrism and Europe. A Multilevel Analysis of 21 European Countries“) or the erroneously titled “‘Ethnic diversity and social capital in Europe: tests of Putnam’s thesis in European countries” (Forthcoming in Scandinavian Political Studies) by Dutch sociologists Peer Scheepers, Maurice Gesthuizen and Tom van der Meer (Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands). The problems in the Hooghe and Scheepers papers of using “national level” diversity as the control variable can be seen when applied to the U.S. context. It would be like assuming that South Dakota, Spanish Harlem, Houston and Beverly Hills all have equal levels of neighborhood diversity in the U.S. Since many countries exhibit different patterns of micro-level integration or segregation one can understand how the national average is an extremely noisy measure of neighborhood diversity. And it seems quite likely that the true relationship between social capital and diversity can’t be seen through all the noise of the resulting national measure. These papers may have interesting things to say, but they can’t have meaningful things to say about whether the “E Pluribus Unum” findings apply to other European countries, which is why the above paper on the Netherlands by the Italian researchers that is referenced at the top of this post is far more relevant to this debate.

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One response to “Netherlands study also finds diversity challenging for social capital in short-term

  1. This is very interesting work. I am curious about several things though. In my research I find that people within urban areas tend to have greater diffuse trust (using the World/European Values Survey) than trust in neighbors or family per se.

    The conversation I had with Dr. Putnam regarding this paper is to wonder about the effect of the questions asked. To a respondent in an urban setting Rotterdam or Seattle, USA, in “Your neighbors”” can encompass a population equal to many of the rural counties found to be high in social capital in Putnam’s study.
    I don’t know how we get to the mechanism, from the data at hand, but when the directions of association are flipping based on the scale of data collection, we are certainly looking at mechanisms that need more qualitative examination as well as better use of existing data.

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