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Diversity triggers a tendency to hunker down and to have less confidence in local government, community leaders, and news media, the study data show. In homogeneous North and South Dakota, 70 to 80 percent of survey respondents said they trusted their neighbors a lot. In diverse Los Angeles and San Francisco, only about 30 percent said the same thing.
Living in a diverse community without a lot of trust in the people next door makes residents less likely to register to vote and more likely to participate in protest marches, Putnam found. People are also less likely to give to charity or to volunteer in the community. Residents of racially or ethnically mixed areas have fewer close friends and confidantes, report being less happy, and say they have a lower quality of life. They spend more time watching television.
The effects are similar regardless of age, gender, economic status, political philosophy, or race. Living in a diverse community has a slightly greater negative impact on conservatives than on liberals, but the effect is “significant” among liberals too. Its impact on whites, Putnam says, is “definitely greater,” but it is “visible” among nonwhites as well.
In the long run, Americans can handle diversity, Putnam says. A century ago, new immigrants from Eastern Europe married only each other, as did migrants from Southern Europe. But by 1990, only one-fifth of white Americans had spouses with an identical ethnic background.
Putnam says the country should look to what worked in the past to foster social solidarity, from building community centers and athletic fields that immigrants and natives can enjoy together to making English-language training more accessible. Because the long-run benefits of immigration and diversity are national in scope, the federal government should help local governments bear the short-term direct costs of increased expenditures on education, health care, and other needs.
But Putnam’s former Harvard colleague James Q. Wilson, the well-known conservative thinker, dismisses his long-term solutions as “wishful thinking.” It’s almost impossible to forge social cohesion among diverse groups, Wilson says. The few institutions that have succeeded, such as the U.S. military and some churches, possess two key ingredients that neighborhoods lack: authoritative leaders and discipline.