Category Archives: diversity

Innovations in social capital and housing

Two interesting things to watch on the intersection of social capital and housing:

1) The claimed growth of “pocket neighborhoods” (a handful of houses around a shared common yard) to reduce the necessary land for a house but still leave homeowners and children with a safe outdoor space to play in and entertain in.  (See USA Today article.)  This obviously could increase social interaction since there is far less private space.  I haven’t seen any studies of this, but it would be hard to test, because families that move into pocket neighborhoods undoubtedly desire greater interaction than families moving into houses with private yards. So, even if there were more social capital in pocket neighborhoods, it is hard to disentangle how much is the shared yard and how much is the community-mindedness of the residents. [For more examples of pocket neighborhoods see Ross Chapin, Cottage Company, and this blog post.]  A wikipedia article describes pocket neighborhoods in other areas like Boston (MA), Duluth (MN), Beloit (WI), Redmond (WA), among others.  Pocket neighborhoods are somewhat related to other attempts to engineer more social capital through physical design, such as co-housing or New Urbanism.

2) Bob Putnam has written about the challenges of building social capital amidst greater diversity.  One interesting approach to this challenge, is Singapore’s policy of rough ethnic quotas in public housing at the block and neighborhood level, begun in 1989, In theory this policy could be quite successful in building social cohesion and trust across the 3 major community groups in Singapore: the Malay (14%), the Indians (8%) and the Chinese (77%).   Given the fact that 82-86% of the Singaporean population lives in public housing, the impact could be quite widespread.  We’re not aware of good, careful studies of the social consequences of this mixing, and one should be wary of declaring victory based on the chastening US experience with HOPE VI.  Mixed income housing under HUD’s HOPE VI program may be successful along some lines, but hasn’t led in general, in the studies we’re aware of (or see this report), to strong cross-class mixing in these neighborhoods.  Read this Singapore Online Citizen piece for an update on Singapore’s Housing Integration (2/17/11).

Japan’s catastrophy, social capital and order

Fukushima Daiichi Plant – Flickr photo by digitalglobe-imagery

My heart and thoughts are with the Japanese people.  Dealing with either of the menaces facing the country — the horrific aftermath of the tsunami or the gradual meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant — would be more than enough, to say nothing of dealing with both simultaneously, and with a disaster that may leave hundreds or thousands of square miles of a crowded Japan uninhabitable for decades.

There have been some interesting articles on how Japanese society, Japanese cultural group values social capital, and reciprocity, are or will aid Japan’s effort to rebuild.  As the conservative Financial Times‘ Lex column noted, despite the continued weakness of Japanese government leaders, “Japan’s hidden strengths are being under-appreciated, not least by its own public….In Nietzsche’s formulation, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This disaster will not kill Japan, and it could emerge psychologically stronger if the aftermath of the quake is handled well. Everyone knows there’s no god to put the stone back on the catfish [the Japanese folk wisdom that earthquakes are the thrashings of a giant catfish below the earth]. People have to do it themselves. The greatest cause for optimism about Japan is the reservoir of social capital that has sustained it through two tough decades.” And the FT Lex column wrote: “The social capital of a well-organised government and solidarity among the people is priceless.”

Where does this Japanese solidarity come from?  Slate has a column pointing to several factors:”

Honesty, with incentives. Japanese people may well be more honest than most. But the Japanese legal structure rewards honesty more than most. In a 2003 study on Japan’s famous policy for recovering lost property, West argues that the high rates of recovery have less to do with altruism than with the system of carrots and sticks that incentivizes people to return property they find rather than keep it. For example, if you find an umbrella and turn it in to the cops, you get a finder’s fee of 5 to 20 percent of its value if the owner picks it up. If they don’t pick it up within six months, the finder gets to keep the umbrella. Japanese learn about this system from a young age, and a child’s first trip to the nearest police station after finding a small coin, say, is a rite of passage that both children and police officers take seriously. At the same time, police enforce small crimes like petty theft, which contributes to an overall sense of security and order, along the lines of the “broken windows” policy implemented in New York City in the 1990s. Failure to return a found wallet can result in hours of interrogation at best, and up to 10 years in prison at worst….

Even Japan’s organized crime (the yakuza) has their rules and culture.  As Slate observes, “They make their money off extortion, prostitution, and drug trafficking. But they consider theft grounds for expulsion….

“That’s not to say that a culture of reciprocity and community doesn’t play a role in the relatively calm response to the quake. It’s just that these characteristics are reinforced by systems and institutions. Adelstein quotes an old Japanese saying that explains the reciprocal mindset: “Your kindness will be rewarded in the end. Charity is a good investment.” But there’s a flipside, too: Unkindness will be punished.”  [Slate, “Why so little looting in Japan“, 3/17/11, Christoper Beam.]

Contrast this report of high levels of Japanese trustworthiness with this AP report of a coziness between the nuclear power industry executives and the government: ” ‘Everything is a secret,’ said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California. ‘There’s not enough transparency in the industry.’ Sugaoka worked at the same utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant where workers are racing to prevent a full meltdown following Friday’s 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami. In 1989 Sugaoka received an order that horrified him: edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators. Sugaoka alerted his superiors in the Tokyo Electric Power Co., but nothing happened – for years. He decided to go public in 2000. Three Tepco executives lost their jobs.” [AP, “Nuclear Power Industry has History of Scandals“, 3/17/11]

Nevertheless, assuming that the Japanese are more honest or trusting, these are not monolithic concepts. If one graphed average Japanese levels of trust of various out-groups (say trust of family, trust of kin, trust of co-workers, trust of neighbors, trust of strangers) you get at what sociologists refer to as the “radius of trust”.  The Japanese have very high levels of trust of family and kin, much higher than Americans, for example.  But the slope of this trust line trails off much more steeply towards distrust as one gets towards more distal groups.  The same line plotted for an average American would look much flatter, with more similar levels (than in Japan) for closer in and more distal groups.  As a result, trust of family is much higher in Japan, but trust in strangers is, on average, higher for Americans. It will thus be important for the Japanese to use approaches, like the emperor’s recent remarks, to help build a stronger sense of communal trust with more distant groups.

Solidarity: although the Japanese do have a strong sense of solidarity, this has often been built off of high levels of distrust or a social shunning of outsiders:  for example, the ainu (indigenous Japanese) are treated quite poorly, in the same way as Americans treat Native Americans.  The strong sense of social solidarity makes it far more difficult for westerners (gaijin) to be truly accepted into Japanese society.  Moreover, the relative low levels of diversity in Japan, make it easier to have this sense of solidarity than in a far more diverse place than the US.

In addition, it is extremely important to differentiate short-term from longer-term social capital and altruism in a post-disaster situation.  High social capital in the immediate aftermath of disasters is nothing unique to the Japanese.  As my colleague Bob Putnam has written, almost all disasters produce initial high levels of social capital as people work to help stricken neighbors or countrymen.  The $64,000 question is the staying power of these impulses.  America saw a quick wave of civicness and altruism post 9/11 that fizzled within 6 months (as our polling showed).  [See Putnam’s “A Better Society in a Time of War“] The real litmus test for Japan’s recovery will be their level of co-operation andaltruism a year or two from now.  Along these lines, some sort of continual brownouts for the rest of the country, as bad as they may be for the economy, may help all of them to have a sense of participation in the pain and suffering of those in the Northeast of Honshu who have suffered the most.

See also, “Why the Japanese Aren’t Looting” (Thomas Lifson, American Thinker, 3/15/11) and “Why the Japanese behave better than Westerners” (The Telegraph, Ed West, 3/18/11)

Bowling Alone Down Under

Andrew Leigh, former economics professor at the Australian National University and recently elected as a Labor Member of Parliament, has published Disconnected.

He finds that Australians, like Americans, are increasing “bowling alone” and thinks the most likely culprits are long working hours, women’s entry into the paid workplace, increased commuting, television, diversity, technologies that discourage connection, and tipping points.

The following is an excerpt from the book:

Several measures of social capital are on the wane.

Organisational membership is down. We are less likely to attend church. Political parties and unions are bleeding members. Sporting participation and cultural attendance are down.

Volunteering is likely below its post-war peak, though it did record a rise in the late 1990s.

We have fewer friends and are less connected with our neighbours than in the mid-80s. Other measures have flatlined, but few have risen.

So what explains the trends in social capital? First, let’s exonerate one defendant. The character variously known as “economic reform”, “economic liberalism” or “economic rationalism” frequently has been blamed for eroding social capital.

For example, Australian sociologist Eva Cox takes the view that free markets undermine trust and reciprocity. She writes that “the idea of the social is losing ground to the concepts of competition, and the money markets are replacing governments. The social aspects of humanity have somehow disappeared and we are left with a more atomised image of individuals competing in an endless process of distrust.”

Cox argues that means-tested social welfare, privatisation of banks and airlines, user pays and private health insurance have contributed to a decline in social capital in Australia.

From a similar perspective, another sociologist, Michael Pusey, contends that the “aggressive re-engineering of our institutions [has] brought a decline in trust . . . There’s a tendency for people to view others as competitors rather than friendly strangers.”

What both these critiques miss is that when two people repeatedly interact with one another in a market, they are likelier to behave well towards one another.

A plumber who turns up on time and charges the quoted price is a guy you’ll hire again. A boss who encourages workers to knock off early on quiet days is likelier to find employees willing to stay a little longer when times are busy.

In my view, there are seven plausible explanations for the drop in some social capital measures in Australia: long working hours, the feminisation of the workplace, car commuting, television, diversity, impersonal technologies and tipping points.

* Working hours: When I ask friends why they think social capital may be declining, the most common answer is “everyone is working longer hours”. But the truth is a little more complicated.

Despite the oft-heard rhetoric about how average working hours are rising, the bare facts show average hours of work have actually declined since the late 1970s.

On average, employed men work about three fewer hours a week than they did in the late 70s, while employed women work about two fewer hours a week.

However, just looking at averages masks the major changes that have taken place in Australian work patterns in the past generation. While the average working week has shortened modestly, there has been a growth in both short-hour and long-hour jobs. There is an increasing proportion of workers in jobs that require fewer than 35 hours a week, and a higher proportion in jobs that take more than 45 hours a week.

The “regular job” isn’t so regular any more.

* Feminisation: In the 50s, if a classroom of children were asked what their mothers did, most would have answered that their mother was a homemaker; it would have been an unusual child who stated their mother worked.

By the 80s, the proportions with working and non-working mothers would probably have been about equal.

And today the children with homemaker mothers would be in the minority.

From 1978 to 2009, the share of women who were employed rose from 40% to 55%. The largest increase was in part-time work, which nearly doubled from 14% in the late 70s to 25% in 2009.

Not surprisingly, this increased participation in the paid workforce has led to women spending less time doing housework.

Acknowledging that rising female labour force participation may have reduced social capital outside the home is not to suggest Australia is worse off as a result. The increasing feminisation of Australia’s companies is the best hope for workplace social capital.

* Car commuting: Solo car commuting is the least social way of getting to and from work. Part of the reason for this is it takes a considerable amount of time out of the day. Over a given distance, a car will generally get you there quicker than public transport. As a consequence, a rise in car commuting has allowed people to choose houses even farther from their workplace.

* Television: Over time, some of us seem to have replaced friends with Friends, and neighbours with Neighbours. There is no shortage of programs about people doing active things, from sports to cooking to dancing. But the irony is these programs have become popular precisely when Australians are participating in fewer social activities.

* Diversity: A spate of studies suggests continued high levels of immigration will bring a raft of economic and social benefits to Australia. But we should not gild the lily. Most likely, higher diversity will lead to lower levels of interpersonal trust.

It will also create an opening for opportunistic political entrepreneurs. The challenge for policy-makers is how to maintain the present levels of immigration while mitigating the impact on our social and political fabric. When it comes to interpersonal trust, one useful strategy would be to focus more attention on the problem itself: building local trust in immigrant communities. It may also be that, through time, race and ethnicity become less salient divisions in Australia.

Harvard University professor Robert Putnam argues that diversity reduces trust since people “act like turtles”, hunkering down to avoid those who are somehow different. Yet he also sees hope in the declining importance of the Catholic-Protestant divide in the US over the past half-century.

* Impersonal technologies: In sentencing actor Charlie Sheen for using prostitutes, the judge reportedly asked why a famous man like him would have to pay for sex. Sheen’s answer: “I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.” Revolting as Sheen’s sentiments may sound, they reflect one way technology has changed our interactions with one another.

As Yale economist Ian Ayres has pointed out, many people may be willing to pay a premium to avoid human interactions. If you don’t like to chat with the person staffing the cash register, many large stores will let you scan your own groceries. If you prefer not to speak with the person at the service station, pay at the pump. If you don’t like dealing with lecturers and classmates in person, sign up for distance education.

In some cases, technologies have crowded out human interaction because the new machines are better. Who bothers popping to a bookstore when they can get the book on their Kindle in less than a minute? In other cases, companies offer discounts for customers who interact only online. Most banks levy a surcharge on over-the-counter withdrawals (essentially asking customers to pay for a face-to-face conversation).

Like physical fitness, our skill in chatting with others is a learned habit. Pay a visit to Manhattan, and you’ll be struck by how comfortably and readily most New Yorkers can chat with someone they have never met before. A Reader’s Digest survey of 35 cities ranked New York No. 1 for civility. It’s not because Manhattan residents have the gene for sociability but because when you share a small island with 1.6 million other people, helping one another and making conversation is what you have to do to get by each day.

The difficulty with these explanations is we can say good things about most of them. Australia is clearly better off for being a more ethnically diverse nation, in which more women participate in the paid workforce than in the past.

Long working hours mostly reflect the preferences of workers, not bosses. Few of us would voluntarily relinquish cars, televisions or ATMs. What this means is any attempt to increase social capital in Australia will not involve a backlash against the causes, but innovative strategies to make us more socially connected. We need to shape a better future, not simply try to revive the past.

Read Australian Prime Minister’s (Julia Gillard’s) comments on Disconnected.

Hear Andrew Leigh on  Oct. 8, 2010 ABC Radio National show “The National Interest.”

Read Andrew Leigh’s op-ed on the connections between social capital and the economy: “Connections Add Value“, Australian Financial Review, Oct. 12, 2010

Intelligence and social capital

Flickr photo by aylaujp

Flickr photo by aylaujp

Jason Richwine had a recent post on The American blog (“A Smart Solution to the Diversity Dilemma“) suggesting that the answer to the short-term tensions Robert Putnam has observed, between diversity and immigration and levels of civic engagement, has a solution: admit smarter immigrants.

First, a clarification…Jason Richwine is incorrect in asserting that Robert Putnam was unclear about whether to share these findings.  We shared an early take on this finding immediately after we conducted the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.

I disagree with Jason”s conclusion;  since education is generally a stronger predictor of levels of civic engagement than raw intelligence, we could still admit less educated immigrants who got educated over time in the U.S.  and have the immigrants still be highly civicly engaged.  Moreover, the lower civic engagement that Robert Putnam discussed in “E Pluribus Unum” was not a compositional effect (a consequence of having more immigrants who were less educated), but a consequence of the diversity within communities, so admitting more educated immigrants wouldn’t have offset that effect.  Nonetheless, his blog post did surface some interesting papers that I hadn’t seen before.  Richwine asserts: “Various survey data indicate that IQ is an important and independent predictor of voting, membership in various social organizations, daily newspaper reading, and tolerance of free speech rights.”

The backup for his assertion comes from:

1)  Seth Hauser, “Education, Ability, and Civic Engagement in the Contemporary United StatesSocial Science Research 29, 556–582 (2000).  Hauser found a modest independent affect of ability on voting and social participation, controlling for levels of education in GSS and Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey data: He found no such finding in ANES (American National Election Studies) data but this data has much weaker and less objective data on intelligence. Hauser concluded that in general the bivariate impact of ability on civic engagement comes from ability proxying for levels of education ultimately achieved.  He also found that education was a stronger predictor of levels of civic engagement than ability.  For “ability”,  GSS had a measure of vocabulary; and WLS used Henmon–Nelson Test of Mental Ability.

2) Stephen Miller, ” Intelligence, Irrationality, and Civic Returns: Can Education Improve Democracy?” (Econ Dept., George Mason Univ.).  Miller also used GSS data and also found that both education and intellectual ability in GSS predict voting, daily newspaper reading and tolerance of free speech.  Ability did not have any independent effect on group membership and only had an effect through levels of education achieved.

Had the effect of intelligence on social capital been much stronger than education (even controlling for education), it would suggest that there is less that one can do to alter one’s baseline level of civic engagement, and head us to more Calvinist notions of predestined civic engagement.  But since education is the bigger driver in Hauser’s findings, it suggests that we are keepers of our civic fate: although we may begin with differential likelihoods of getting engaged, these can be more than offset through additional education (which both provides us with useful skills for getting engaged — like organizing others, running a meeting, writing persuasive materials, making a speech etc. — and will make others more likely to ask us to get civicly engaged).

Heroes and Cowards

heroes-and-cowardsMatt Kahn and Dora Costa have just recently published Heroes and Cowards : The Social Face of War. I haven’t read the book, but I have read the terrific underlying articles that formed the genesis of this book.

One of them was a fascinating look at why more soldiers didn’t desert their companies in the Civil War than the 200,000 who did — after all there was almost a 50% chance that they would die or be seriously wounded if they stayed with their troop and a negligible chance they would be caught and punished if they deserted.

See this excerpt from Chapter 1:

James Monroe Rich left his wife and his trade for the low and irregular pay of a Union army soldier in the Civil War. He marched through heat and dust, through torrential thunderstorms and deep mud. He marched with gear weighing 45 to 50 pounds—guns, cartridges and cartridges boxes, woolen and rubber blankets, two shirts and two pairs of drawers, canteens full of water, rations, and trinkets from home. He marched with his comrades even when they “were falling on every side” in a failed frontal assault where “the lead and iron filled the air as the snowflakes in an angry driving storm. James was lucky. He survived the war. Over one-quarter of the men in his company did not.

Unlike James, George Farrell was well paid to enlist and take the place of another man who had been called up. He joined a company that had been re-formed with new men and saw no comrades die. Unlike James, he deserted twice, the second time successfully. Why did James stand up for his comrades while George did not?

While their story is told through the eyes of 9 men serving in the Civil War, Costa and Kahn do extensive statistical analyses and controls to verify their conclusions.  Digitally tracking the involvement of 41,000 soldiers from 1861-1865, Costa and Kahn found that “social capital” (the degree of connections they had with others in their troop — e.g., profession, age, hometown, extended blood ties) that predicted troop cohesion. For example, Union soldiers who served alongside men from the same occupations deserted at one-third the rate of counterparts in more diverse companies (where 1 in 10 deserted).

Costa and Kahn quote military strategist Ardant du Picq: “Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.”

They also found that survival rates in Andersonville — a despicable Confederate war camp where nearly 40%  of captured soldiers died– was significantly higher if one had close ethnic ties to other prisoners.  Survival rates for Union soldiers born in Ireland, increased dramatically from 60% to 90% if there were 15 other Irish immigrant prisoners but only edged up to 64% if there were 15 other comrades from their original company.  Kahn hypothesizes that “[Y]our comrades would help you get healthy if you got sick and share their food rations… “So in P.O.W. camps, diversity actually turned out to be a bad thing. It hindered survival rates.”

But Costa & Kahn found long-term benefits from diversity of African-Americans in Civil War companies: increased literacy; increased changing of their slave name after service; and increased moving away from their hometown after the War.  Companies with both African American former slaves and freemen had higher desertion rates than units that didn’t mix these groups, but over 30% of former slaves learned to write in these mixed groups versus only 16% in former slave-only units.  Kahn calls them quasi-job-training programs. “[F]or every 10 percentage-point increase in comrades who hailed from a particular state different than the home state of an illiterate solider, the likelihood of that illiterate soldier ultimately relocating to that state jumped by more than 30 percent. ”  Kahn calls this “the Zagat Guide effect…So if we’re in the same company, and I’m from New Jersey, you are more likely to move to New Jersey after the war. We believe that I taught you about the benefits of New Jersey. Serving in a diverse unit helped open horizons for men who had previously enjoyed no mobility whatsoever.”

We’ve long preached about the importance of social capital, but Costa & Kahn show how these social ties help not only in a daily “business as usual” climate but in times of greatest adversity where our lives are on the line. They show where notions of altruism, group identity, and willingness to sacrifice come from, and how they are informed by those around us.  And how we act on our loyalty toward others, even when it holds great cost to us, by increasing the chance that we “go down with the ship.”

To see a WSJ review of Heroes and Cowards, see “Why Soldiers Fight“.

Read Chapter 1 of Heroes and Cowards here.

We ‘want’ diversity, but live increasingly in segregated communities

The Pew Center has an interesting research report showing this contradiction both for political diversity and for socioeconomic and religious diversity.

Politics: Americans profess to want political diversity in their communities — true of all Americans, especially for Democrats, Liberals, Whites and Blacks and more wealthy Americans: Note: for conservative Republicans it is almost a tossup with 49% wanting to live in a diverse political environment and 43% wanting to live around others who share their views.  That said, more and more Americans are living in politically segregated communities.  Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, whose interesting book “The Big Sort” showed how Americans are self-segregating politically note that these trends continued apace in 2008.  Nearly half of all votes (48%) cast for President in 2008 were in counties that sided with Obama or McCain by a margin of at least 20 percentage points (i.e., at least 60-40).   Ironically, even a clear majority of Democrats living in these landslide counties want to live among a mix of political views (62%) and by a razor thin plurality Republicans in landslide counties prefer to live among political diversity (46% to 44%).  [Note: Bishop believes that people choose to live among people who share their backgrounds, tastes and lifestyles, and that these preferences are increasingly correlated with political views.]

thebigsortThe Pew authors note it is unclear what is causing what: people who have moved more recently into landslide counties do not have statistically significant different views about diversity.

Race, Religious and Socioeconomic Diversity:

Patterns here are similar as with regard to political diversity.  Most Americans want to be among a mix of races, religions, people of varied socioeconomic classes.

The big divergence comes with attitudes towards immigrants.  Most Americans (other than liberal Democrats and Hispanics) prefer to live in a community with few immigrants rather than many immigrants, despite the research of Rob Sampson that shows that immigrants are more law-abiding than Americans on average.  [The researchers note that the form of the question had to be different for immigrants since just one in eight Americans are immigrants, and thus they did not ask whether you want to live in a community with a mix of immigrants and non-immigrants or not.  It is possible that the wording form influenced the responses.

So what’s going on?  The researchers note that it could be a “talk-is-cheap” phenomenon with people giving answers that they think interviewers want to hear or “saying the right thing”.  Political correctness held that the increases in answers among Americans of their attitudes toward race were just cheap talk, and then we find with the election of Obama that a majority of Americans ARE willing to elect a president who is black, so we should be wary of asserting that people are always lying about their feelings.

With regard toward racial attitudes we find that comfort levels are very different with regard to diversity among blacks and whites.  Whites prefer to live in communities that are say 15-20% non-white whereas Hispanics or Blacks often have an ideal *diversity* rate of 50% white and 50% black.  Part of what is going on in white flight is non-whites moving into neighborhoods and the percentage of non-whites rising above most whites’ comfort levels.  As the whites leave, the percentage non-white rises higher and higher, causing more whites to move out, and the community winds up becoming predominantly non-white.

The report notes that black/white segregation has declined significantly since 1960 (when 70% of blacks lived in predominantly black neighborhoods), “but immigrant segregation as well as Hispanic and Asian segregation has increased in recent decades.  [Some of these measures are sensitive to what measures one uses to measure segregation — the so called dissimilarity index or the  isolation index: as the population of groups rises or falls in percentage terms, their isolation indices can change formulaicly without them actually moving across neighborhoods.]  “Even with this increasing spatial isolation of the well-to-do, however, blacks are still nearly three times as segregated from whites as are affluent Americans from those who are less well off.”

Read the Pew Report “Americans Claim to Like Diverse Communities but do They Really” here.

Do Olympics spur patriotism, xenophobia or civic engagement?

I haven’t seen any surveys that show whether patriotism rises during periods of Olympics although people anticipate this to be the case (at least in the UK). Even my daughter wants to know for every competition (*who are the Americans?*). I myself am a bit skeptical of the survey numbers during the games since it requires that those of us bleary-eyed from late night Olympics watching are alert enough to answer the surveys. Richard Posner, a man with whom I rarely agree, writes: “When a sport or other game is played all over the world (chess for example, or soccer), it is natural that there should be international competition. The oddity of the Olympics is that they are presented as athletic competitions between nations, rather than between teams each of which presumably would have a permanent residence in one nation yet might recruit team members from other nations as well. Nations in the grip of nationalist emotion or wanting to advertise their power to the world (nations such as Hitler’s Germany, which made the 1936 summer Olympics, held in Berlin, a major propaganda event; East Germany and other communist countries; and now China) invest heavily in training their Olympic athletes. China is estimated to have spent as much as half a billion dollars to train their athletes for the Olympic games now underway in Beijing. The heavy investments that nations that regard Olympic competition as a propaganda opportunity in turn spur other nations to invest heavily in training their own Olympic athletes. The nationalistic fervor and great-power aspirations that Olympic competition stimulates seem to me a negative externality….”

But does this rise in patriotism, assuming it exists, spur more xenophobia (distrust of outsiders)? Very similar to the assumption that in-group bonding and trust must come at the expense of out-group increased distrust. So many citizens and scholars assume some zero-sum relationship where bonding must be offset by less bridging. While we haven’t done work on the Olympics, our general research of diversity and social capital shows that bonding and bridging are mildly positively related, not negatively related. In other words, those who trust or identify with Americans more doesn’t necessarily entail a distrust or dislike of “outsiders”.

Along these lines, I’ve been moved by images of pan-ethnic unity during the game (e.g., the Gerogian and the Russian pistol shooters who exchanged kisses after a match).

Some of the images are like the optical illusion of the outline of two faces and a vase. For example, the general embracing of the moving story of 21-year old first-time Olympic-gold US wrestler Henry Cejudo, the son of illegal immigrants who slept on the floor growing up and was proud enough to wrap himself in the US flag upon his victory; but even on this “feel good” story, there are rants of American nativists who want him deported). Nothing makes one more proud of that inclusive American spirit. (cue sarcastic music)

In the Michael Phelps relay team that had Cullen Jones, the African-American relay swimmer , or Raj Bhavsar (the Gujarati member of the surprisingly good American gymnastics team), is one impressed by the diversity, or by how largely white these teams are?

And are we more inclined during the Olympic games to feel our competitive edge on hyperdrive or reach out through common acts of kindness to help others? Let’s hope the latter.

And in an interesting side note, the Washington Post reports that on a study that found bronze medalists were happier with their performance than silver medalists. A study found that “The silver medalists couldn’t get the gold medalists out of their heads, whereas the bronze medalists compared themselves with athletes who didn’t win anything.” Silver medalists and those finishing fifth were, on average, equally happy. Brings to mind Dan Gilbert’s talk on happiness.

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.