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Does Immigration Erode Social Capital? The Conditional Effects of Immigration-Generated Diversity on Trust, Membership, and Participation across 19 Countries, 1981–2000

  • Christel Kesler (a1) and Irene Bloemraad (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2010

Abstract. This article is an attempt to qualify existing evidence that increasing diversity is detrimental to a vibrant civil society. We focus specifically on immigration-generated diversity, and argue that while it may have negative effects on some specific civic and political outcomes in some contexts, these effects vary widely across advanced democracies. Our argument rests on analysis of a cross-national, cross-sectional time-series dataset that brings together individual-level World Values Survey data with country-level variables. With these data, we track within-country changes over time in trust and engagement. We show that immigration can have a negative effect on social trust, organizational membership and political engagement, but that institutional arrangements shape this relationship in systematic ways. In more economically equal societies and in more multicultural countries (where cultural minorities are recognized and accommodated), the negative effects of immigration on trust and engagement are mitigated or even reversed. We conclude that there is no general link between immigration-generated diversity and collective-mindedness. Rather, the direction and strength of the relationship depend on institutional and policy contexts.

Résumé. Cet article vise à nuancer les preuves existantes que la diversité croissante porte préjudice à une société civile dynamique. Nous nous concentrons particulièrement sur la diversité produite par l'immigration. Nous soutenons que même si elle peut exercer une influence négative sur quelques indices dans certains contextes, ces effets varient considérablement selon le pays examiné parmi les démocraties avancées. Notre argument repose sur l'analyse d'un ensemble de données multinational, transversal et longitudinal qui rassemble des données au niveau individuel du World Values Survey avec des variables au niveau des pays. Au moyen de ces données, nous examinons les changements survenus à l'intérieur des pays, au fil du temps, sur le plan de la confiance et de l'engagement. Nous montrons que l'immigration peut avoir un effet négatif sur la confiance sociale, l'adhésion à des organisations et l'engagement politique, mais que les arrangements institutionnels influencent cette relation de manières systématiques. Dans les sociétés plus économiquement égales et dans les pays plus multiculturels (où les minorités culturelles sont reconnues et accommodées), les effets négatifs de l'immigration sur la confiance et l'engagement sont atténués, voire inversés. Nous concluons qu'il n'y a aucun lien général entre la diversité produite par l'immigration et l'esprit collectif. La direction et la force de la relation entre les deux dépendent plutôt des politiques et des contextes institutionnels.

Corresponding author
Christel Kesler, University of Oxford, Nuffield College, New Road, Oxford, OX1 1NFUnited Kingdom.
Irene Bloemraad, University of California, Berkeley, Department of Sociology, 410 Barrows Hall, MC #1980, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1980, USA.
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