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DIVID Report Summary

Project ID: 627982
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - DIVID (The challenges of diversity for current societies: Its impact on social capital and well-being through the lens of identity)

Global modernisation has dramatically changed the ethnic composition of many modern societies. These demographic changes are now having a major impact across all spheres of life, including the workplace, neighbourhood environments, schools, and nations. It is thus not surprising to see, within the social sciences (and also in politics and public debate), concern about the impact of these changes for societies. In fact, this increasing concern has escalated to pessimism about the possible effects of diversity and multiculturalism. Robert Putnam (2000) in his book Bowling Alone showed that in diverse communities, people tend to have less trust in neighbours, lower political efficacy, lower levels of voter registration, and are less likely to work on community projects and to contribute to charity. Since then, similar pessimistic views have emerged across multiple social sciences (e.g., economics, sociology, and political science) leading to the idea that our societies are in decline. The present project aimed to evaluate critically these pessimistic findings by centring its focus on the individual and examined the impact of ethnic and religious diversity on people’s quality of life (measured by well-being and health indicators). Together with this approach we performed analyses to identify the mechanisms motivating the effects of diversity on well-being and health. Furthermore, previous research has typically focused on a specific context and in one point in time, in the present project we departed from this view and analysed data from countries all over the world encompassing more than 30 years of data.
To meet these aims, we analysed data from the Gallup World Poll (GWP) and the World Values Survey (WVS) using multiple indices from the social and biological sciences to account for diversity in each country. These diversity indexes were calculated by computing the proportion of ethnic and religious groups in each country across the years polled in each survey. In these analyses we controlled for critical country-level variables that may account for differences in well-being (e.g., GDP, level of conflict, social inequalities, level of corruption or democracy, life expectancy). Taken together, the analyses of both surveys, included a total of 114 countries and around 500 000 respondents. Whilst for the GWP we were limited to the analysis of the 2008 wave, with the WVS we analysed a total of 6 waves comprising 35 years of data. Results from these analyses revealed that ethnic and religious diversity at the country-level were associated with better well-being (measured as life satisfaction and general happiness) and self-reported health. The WVS provided the added value of having multiple waves and allowed to perform a repeated cross-sectional analysis examining the effects of changes in ethnic and religious diversity on well-being and health. Results showed an opposite pattern such that increasing diversity over time was associated with poorer well-being and health outcomes, suggesting that individuals tend to react negatively to changes in ethnic and religious diversity. Thus, changing the social environment might be likely to induce feelings of culture or identity threat, which are negatively reflected in individuals’ well-being and health. Nonetheless, it is important to note that diversity at the country level was positively associated with these outcomes, suggesting that although changes in diversity might promote negative reactions, the overall effect of diversity tends to be positive.
When examining the processes underpinning these effects, we found that ethnic and religious diversity were associated with a valued national identity, which was in turn associated with positive well-being and health. Together with this relevant mechanism we are now testing the effectiveness of additional variables such as the positive experiences emerging from inter-ethnic and inter-religious contact or personality traits such as openness to experience that might emerge in countries with high levels of social diversity. At the present moment we are replicating these analyses with the European Social Survey and the Latino Barometro, which will serve to test these additional mechanisms and better understand why diversity appears to be associated with better well-being and health in the long-term.
These results are expected to impact public discourse in a period of change, in which populist right-wing parties have been receiving increased support across Europe. In a period in which anti-globalisation, protectionism, ethnocentrism, and anti-immigration policies have resulted in the voting for Brexit in the UK referendum and in the election of Donald Trump in the US. The positive effects found here are likely to contribute to the migration debate and will serve to question some of the pessimism surrounding the future of our societies. This positive perspective is also likely to motivate and empower interventions to resolve ethnic and religious conflict.

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