NOTE: THIS REPORT CONTAINS PRELIMINARY RESULTS (2001) OF BENCHMARK SURVEY. ACTIVE RESEARCH ON ALL ASPECTS OF THIS SURVEY ARE CONTINUING AND THESE RESULTS SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED CONCLUSIVE. CONCLUSIVE RESULTS WILL BE REPORTED HERE WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE.
opportunity and challenge of diversity
As in some
earlier eras in American history, America is rapidly becoming
a more diverse society. Just as the arrival of waves of immigrants
from southern and eastern Europe at the end of the 19th
century roiled our large cities in the short run but enriched
our nation in the long run, so now many of our communities now
face the challenges and opportunities associated with rapid
growth of racial and ethnic minorities.
speaking, Americans seem open to this new diversity, at least
by traditional measures of racial prejudice, as captured, for
example, in the stereotypical expression of intolerance, "Yes,
but would you let your daughter marry one?" Our survey
found remarkably low levels of opposition to a close relative
marrying someone of a different race or ethnicity. For example,
only 22% of Whites expressed any opposition to a close relative
marrying a Black and 18% of Hispanics opposed this. [Others
figures showing even lower opposition to racial intermarriage
are given in the accompanying table.] Some of this apparent
tolerance for intermarriage may reflect more recent norms that
have made it less legitimate to express racial intolerance in
public, but even that minimal sort of change marks a real shift
in American mores.
somewhat or strongly a close relative
a black person
a Latino/Hispanic person
an Asian person
a white person
large, rapidly growing, ethnically diverse metropolitan communities,
especially concentrated in the Sunbelt, constitute in some respects
the most distinctive type of American community at the turn
of the twenty-first century. Indeed, important social features
of places like LA, Houston, Phoenix, and the Bay Area are also
increasingly mirrored in places like Yakima, Minneapolis, and
Boston. A primary asset of these communities is the richness
of their multicultural "stew," adding chimichangas,
kimche, and collard greens, both literally and metaphorically,
to the traditional American cuisine.
of this distinctive flavor appear in our community surveys.
Compared to ethnically more homogeneous sites, the most diverse
communities in our project report a higher density of ethnic,
neighborhood, and self-help groups. Not surprisingly, perhaps,
residents of ethnically diverse communities are more likely
to report friendships with people of color and gays, as well
as having a stronger sense of their own ethnic identity.
On the other
hand, our survey results also make clear the serious challenges
of building social capital in a large, ethnically diverse community.
The more diverse a community in our study, the less likely its
- to trust other people.
It is perhaps not surprising, given the inevitable ethnic
tensions associated with rapid change, that interracial trust
is substantially lower in ethnically diverse communities,
but the pattern we find is much broader. Residents of ethnically
diverse communities are less likely to trust people in their
neighborhoods, the clerks where they shop, the people they
work with, and even (quite remarkably) people of their own
ethnic group. (In ethnically diverse communities, in other
words, whites are less likely to trust other whites, Hispanics
to trust other Hispanics, and so on.)
- to connect with other people,
even informally. Residents of more diverse communities are
more likely to be personally isolated; they claim fewer friends
and confidants, spend less time socializing with friends and
relatives, and have less sense of community with their friends.
(Compared to people in the most ethnically homogeneous sites
in our study, respondents in the most ethnically diverse communities
were nearly twice as likely to say that that there was no
one or at most one other person "in your life
with whom you can share confidences or discuss a difficult
- to participate in politics.
People in more ethnically diverse communities are more
likely to feel that "the people running my community
don't really care much what happens to me." They are
less likely to vote, to participate in demonstrations or protests,
or to sign petitions. People at the bottom of the socioeconomic
ladder are especially disengaged from politics in ethnically
- to connect
across class lines.
Residents of ethnically diverse communities are less
likely to number among their acquaintances someone who has
been on welfare, a manual worker, a business owner, a vacation
homeowner, or someone of a different religious faith. Although
they are more likely to report having an acquaintance of a
different race, they are not more likely to have invited those
interracial acquaintances into their homes. Moreover, as
we discuss below, class differences in levels of social capital
are much greater in ethnically diverse communities.
our survey was designed to measure the amount of social capital
in various communities, but the data also allow us to assess
the social distribution of social capital in those same communities.
At any given level of social participation (say, 30 percent
of the population attending public meetings), the social distribution
of that participation could be quite different. The 30 percent
who attend meetings could be drawn more or less proportionately
from different income, and racial, and educational categories,
in which case we would describe the distribution as "egalitarian."
Or the 30 percent who attend meetings could be drawn entirely
from the more privileged social strata—rich, well-educated,
and white, so that rates of participation would be quite different
at different levels of the local social hierarchy. In some
communities, the bank president, the bank teller, and the bank
janitor all turn out for community activities, but in other
communities only the president does.
speaking, our survey found disturbingly unequal access to social
capital in most American communities. Rates of political participation,
social participation, social trust, and the like are quite different
in different social strata. For example, blacks/hispanics were
less than half as likely to trust other people in their neighborhoods
a lot as whites (56% of whites trusted people in their neighborhoods
v. 21% for blacks and 19% for hispanics). Forty-six percent
of whites had 6 or more close friends versus only 28% of blacks
and 30% of hispanics. Sixteen percent of blacks and 26% of hispanics
never spoke with their neighbors versus this being the case
with only 6% of whites. Whites were more likely to vote and
be registered to vote than blacks or hispanics (controlling
for citizenship), and more likely than blacks and hispanics
to work on community projects or sign a petition. 
In some sense, that is, our survey uncovered the social
capital equivalent of the "digital divide." Americans
who lack access to financial and human capital also lack access
to social capital. Quite apart from increasing the level of
civic engagement in American communities, we need to attend
to its social distribution.
of inequality in access to social capital is, it turns out,
greatly exacerbated in ethnically diverse communities. More
than size or wealth or education, it is ethnic diversity that
distinguishes communities in which class differences in community
involvement are greatest. In ethnically diverse places like
Los Angeles, Houston, or Yakima (Washington), college graduates
are four or five times more likely to be politically involved
than their fellow residents who did not get past high school.
In ethnically less diverse places like Montana or New Hampshire,
the class gaps in political participation are less than half
that large. In terms of civic activity, there is not much difference
between a high-tech executive in Houston and a high-tech executive
in Nashua (New Hampshire), but there is a very substantial difference
between an auto mechanic in Houston and an auto mechanic in
the opportunities for social capital building in America's increasingly
diverse communities are substantial, but the challenges are
great, as well. Our evidence suggests that community activists
in settings of unusual diversity need to redouble their efforts
to build trust (and not just across racial lines), to reduce
social isolation, to expand political participation and to bridge
class barriers. If we are creative and thoughtful, we can build
greater social connectedness in diverse places, and we will
surely benefit, as we have in earlier periods of our history,
from the rich diversity of multiculturalism.