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Some researchers have argued for years that high rates of ethnic diversity in a community can eat away at social capital, the interconnectedness among neighbors that helps give rise to a functioning society. A new study led by a Georgia Institute of Technology economist has found new data-based evidence for that theory that also may help explain why it happens.
Instead of relying on behavioral survey data, as key prior studies have, Associate Professor Willie Belton and his coauthors looked at 15 years of county-level U.S. Census data with details on black, Latino, white, and Asian population, along with another data set tracking membership in social, religious, and political groups—measures researchers have argued are good proxies for social trust.
Study - Capital - Counties - Ethnicity - Communities
The study found that social capital increased in counties where one ethnicity dominates, but declined in communities with higher rates of diversity.
Belton and his coauthors scoured the data for evidence pointing to one of the three theories proposed to explain the link between social capital and diversity: the contact, hunker-down, and conflict theories.
Contact - Thesis - Diversity - Capital - People
The contact thesis suggests that rising diversity boosts social capital as people of different ethnicities become more tolerant of one another. The "hunker down" theory suggests that social capital declines because people retreat into their shells when faced with rising diversity—rejecting newcomers but also pulling back on engagement with people of their own ethnic group in an effort to shelter themselves. The conflict model explains falling social capital as backlash against newcomers in a perceived fight over limited resources.
Belton's study found sufficient evidence in the data to reject the contact hypothesis, but the results were less clear when...
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