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The American Social Capital Crisis
In 1995, Robert Putnam took an initial look at social capital in America in an article titled "Bowling Alone." The United States has long been known as a country with vibrant civic institutions. This fact was first explored by Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic work, Democracy in America. Writing in the 1830s, Tocqueville was astonished by the number and diversity of associations in America, and attributed much of the success of American democracy to this fact. America still ranks among those nations with high levels of social capital, but Putnam's article pointed to an alarming decline in the level of civic engagement in the United States beginning roughly in the mid-1960s. Since 1995, a spirited academic debate has raged concerning the accuracy of the claims made in "Bowling Alone" and their cause, although much of this debate has ebbed with the impressive array of evidence Putnam marshaled for the book Bowling Alone (2000). [See the appendix on "Recommended Reading" for more about this debate.] As more information has come to light, the crisis in America's social capital has only become more evident.
Some of the indicators traced in Bowling Alone include:
Declines across all these areas, more or less pronounced, all became evident beginning in the 1960s. The causes of this change are complex, but appear to be related to the passing of the very engaged generation born and raised before World War II, which Putnam calls "America's long civic generation," and the dramatic transformation of American society after World War II, including the rise of television as the dominant form of entertainment and the spread of suburban sprawl. Not all the news is bad. Since 1960, America has become a more open society and one much more tolerant of diversity; great strides toward racial and gender equality have been made; political and civil rights are more secure; and speech and other forms of expression are less restricted. Preliminary evidence suggests that civic engagement among the youngest American generations is higher than that of their elders. Alternative forms of connectedness have emerged as well, including the rise of evangelical Christian organizations, dramatic increases in membership in national lobbying organizations that represent particular political views and interests (but which rarely build on social capital) as well as local self-help and mutual support groups (some of which do). The Internet, for better or worse, will change the way Americans connect with one another in ways that we cannot yet imagine. So far, none of these shifts is large enough to offset the declines created by the passing of the long civic generation. If nothing changes, the decline in social capital will have devastating social and political ramifications in the years to come. We hope instead that people will continue to search for new ways of connecting to their society. It is extremely important to point out that the drive to rebuild social capital is not a nostalgia movement. The social structures and institutions that will connect Americans with each other in the next century may be very different from those that were created in the Progressive Era and prevailed during most of this century. The mission of the Saguaro Seminar at the Kennedy School is to explore these new solutions, and promote those that rebuild community while preserving the gains made in tolerance, diversity, and equality.
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Diversity and social capital
Saguaro has been undertaking some research on immigration, diversity and social capital. For more on our diversity research, click here.
There are two poles of research on the interaction of diversity and social capital. One pole of research summarized in a piece by Costa and Kahn suggests that increased diversity is associated with lower social capital. This research is consistent with our initial analysis of our Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.
Another opposite conclusion about the interaction of diversity and social capital comes from John Helliwell (Univ. of British Columbia, Canada), suggesting that this negative relationship is a product of governmental policy rather than natural law, and is less generalizable than Costa and Kahn suggest. In a recent paper for the 2003 International Conference on The Opportunity and Challenge of Diversity: A Role For Social Capital (held in Montreal Nov. 24-25, 2003), Helliwelll describes Joseph Heath's typology that governments are either assimilationist or integrative with regard to immigrants (welcoming immigrants and not pressuring immigrants to assimilate). Helliwell suggests that this affects the immigrant experience, inter-racial relations and the levels of trust. He finds that Canada, which is more integrative, has half the percentage of immigrants who self-identify as hyphenated Canadians (e.g., Arab-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian) as the percentage of U.S. immigrants who identify as hyphenated-Americans. He also finds that Canadian immigrants are twice as likely to naturalize as in the U.S. (which could be a measure of their social capital since naturalization provides few additional benefits other than voting). He suggests that both of these differences may be due to the fact that the assimilationist policy of the U.S. towards immigrants produces more inter-racial tension and less identification with their country than in Canada. Helliwell describes the fact that trust levels are lower among Canadian immigrants than non-immigrants and that these differences persist even controlling for factors like education, income, time in community, etc. Tom Rice and Jan Feldman have noted the importance of immigrants' home country trust in setting their trust levels when they emigrate. ["Civic Culture and Democracy From Europe to America" (1997).] Using this framework, Helliwell finds that these trust differentials disappear in Canada when one controls for average trust levels in the home country of the immigrants. Helliwell also asserts that contrary to the "footprint of imported trust" which lasts for many generations in the U.S., there is starting to be evidence in Canada that this it may disappear within one generation. Helliwell thus asks whether there are generalizable lessons about the win-win benefits to integrative governmental attitudes toward immigration in promoting better inter-racial attitudes and higher trust.
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Rodney Hero has written Racial Diversity and Social Capital (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007). Hero posits that the social outcomes for racial minorities and other dimensions of American politics produce benefits that outweigh any negative social capital effects.
An interesting recent book by Ed Glaeser and Alberto Alesina called Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference attempts to explain why Europe has such a more generous welfare state than the U.S. After examining a host of possible reasons using quantitative data, they conclude that a major factor is the higher levels of racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. relative to Europe. This diversity has been exploited by politicians to divide groups from each other and shrink our public beneficence. The book draws on an earlier paper by Glaeser, Alesina and Sacerdote called "Why Doesn't the U.S. have a European-Style Welfare State?".
An interesting recent line of research by scholar Lisa DeBruine looks at the relationship between facial resemblance and our level of trust using computer face-morphing software. DeBruine found that facial resemblance to another increased trust of that person but did not reduce selfish betrayals of that person's trust. The article is in the Royal Society (2002) 269, 1307-1312. DeBruine has also written a somewhat related 2005 article entitled "Trustworthy but not Lust-worthy."
Scott Page (University of Michigan) has done work on how diversity leads to higher creativity, more robust systems, breakthroughs, etc. His work builds on that of James Surowiecki and could be thought of as the 'wisdom of diverse crowds.' His book on the advantages of diversity is called The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Teams, Schools and Societies (2007). The Difference makes three points: 1) Diverse perspectives and tools enable groups to find more and better solutions and increase productivity; (2) Diverse predictive models enable groups to predict values more accurately; and (3) Diverse fundamental preferences frustrate the process of making choices. Some chapter excerpts available here.
Olaf Johansson-Stenman finds in "Who Are the Trustworthy, We Think?" (2006) that in Sweden as well, perceived trustworthiness decreases with social distance, possibly through social identity theory.
Professor Erzo Luttmer in 2006 wanted to find out if people give less to victims of different races than their own race. With experimental photos he showed respondents pictures of Katrina victims (some of whom could be easily identified racially and others where their race was not visible) and then asked about how to allocate a real $100 to Habitat for Humanity. Preliminary results on a smaller sample suggest that people give about the same amount — roughly $60 out of the $100 — whether or not the victims shown in the pictures are African American or white.”
An amicus curae brief was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 by Simpson Thacher on behalf of religious organizations regarding two cases: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (05-908) AND Crystal D. Meredith, Custodial Parent and Next Friend of Joshua Ryan McDonald, Petitioner v. Jefferson County Board of Education, et al (05-915) . The brief summarizes evidence of the importance of bridging social capital and racially integrated schools.
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It is less research than opinion, but David Goodhart, editor of Prospect magazine in the U.K., had a thought-provoking piece entitled "Too Diverse?" in February 2004, to which there were several months following of interesting replies by individuals like Will Kymlicka, Amitai Etzioni, Nathan Glazer, etc. One the respondents, Trevor Phillips, the chair of the British Commission on Racial Equality gives a quite different take from his initial reply to Goodhart in "After 7/7: Sleepwalking to Segregation" (9/22/05). Trevor Phillips also was recently quoted prominently in a BBC report that U.K. communities in which diversity was higher were associated with lower levels of happiness.
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Goodhart has a 2006 piece called "National Anxieties" that explains his belief that solidarity in diverse times will require robust defense of national citizenship.
"Illusions of Identity" (Prospect, Aug. 2006) discusses Amartya Sen's book [Identity and Violence] and view that British multiculturalism approach undermines individual freedom.
Dora Costa and Matt Kahn have an interesting article on the benefits of diversity in the Civil War. See: "Forging a New Identity: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity in Civil War Combat Units for Black Slaves and Freemen". (NBER Working Paper 11013, 2004). A 2001 paper by Costa and Kahn, called "Cowards and Heroes: Group Loyalty in the American Civil War" [Quarterly Journal of Economics], found that civil war soldiers were far less likely to desert their companies if there was greater homogeneity of its soldiers (age, occupation, ethnicity), even though the rational thing to do was to desert since the risk of being caught and punished was far less than the high risk of mortality from fighting.
Tom Rice finds that greater diversity (which is largely ethnic diversity, e.g., Swedes vs. Germans) across Iowa's counties is associated with lower levels of social trust and sense of community. [See “White Ethnic Diversity and Community Attachment in Small Iowa Towns.” 2001. Social Science Quarterly, 82: 397-407. (with Brent Steele)]
"Cross-Racial Envy and Underinvestment in South Africa" (2006) by Daniel Haile, Abdolkarim Sadrieh, and Harrie Verbon, CESifo Working Paper No. 1657, showed that low-income black or white groups in trust games invested far less trust in upper class groups of the opposite race than other partnerships.
Andrew Leigh's "Trust, Inequality, and Ethnic Heterogeneity" (2005) uses Australian General Social Survey data to show that localized neighborhood trust is lower in more ethnically heterogeneous communities for natives and non-natives, although generalized trust is lower in ethnically heterogeneous communities only for non-natives. His research is also summarized in a 2006 piece in Dialogue called "Diversity, Trust and Redistribution."
Oriana Bandiera, Iwan Barankay, and Imran Rasul in "Cooperation in Collective Action" (2005) [Economics of Transition, 13(3), 473–498] show that more heterogeneous teams on a British farm picked less fruit.
Bruce Sacerdote and David Marmaros have an interesting paper "How Do Friendships Form?" (NBER Working Paper No. 11530, August 2005) that shows clustering by race and social class among college students (inferring friendships based on e-mail patterns among Dartmouth students and alumni). They found that within-building geographic proximity and race are greater determinants of social interaction than common interests, majors, or family background. "Two randomly chosen white students interact three times more often than do a black student and a white student." However, mixed race freshman dorms increased cross-race socializing threefold but didn't increase cross-race socializing more generally. "Placing two students in the same entering class (cohort) has a 6x effect on the frequency of their interacting, even if the two students are of a different race or are at different ends of the academic ability distribution." David Brooks had a column on this called "Barriers, and Paths, to Integration" (Sept. 21, 2005, New York Times).
Robert Kurzban (with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides) has interesting research on our ability to redefine racial boundaries. See "Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization" (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98 (26) 15387-15392 [#5414])
Kerwin Kofi Charles and Patrick Kline, "Relational Costs and the Production of Social Capital: Evidence from Carpooling" [2006, The Economic Journal, 116(111): 581] shows that rates of carpooling are higher in more homogenous communities, most likely because the homogeneity facilitates neighborhood connections. [earlier form available as NBER Working Paper W9041] (2001)
While at Dartmouth, Jennifer Richeson et al. did a 2003 study that shows that whites find it more cognitively demanding to do tasks while viewing pictures of unfamiliar blacks than while viewing pictures of whites (and vice-versa). See Richeson, J. A., Baird, A. A., Gordon, H. L., Heatherton, T. F, Wyland, C. L., Trawalter, S., & Shelton, J. N. (2003). "An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function." Nature Neuroscience, 6 (12), 1323-1328.
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"The Social Assimilation of Immigrants" (Domenico de Palo, Riccardo Faini, Alessandra Venturini (2006). Using European Community Household panel (ECHP) data, they find that migrants, particularly non-EU ones, integrate with more difficulty than natives, controlling for things like age, education, family size, and employment status.
There's also an interesting Op-Ed by Brent Staples called "Why Race Isn't as 'Black' and 'White' as We Think" (New York Times, 10/31/05) about the degree of mixed ancestry of many Americans, even who don't suspect it.
Clay Risen's "Going South" (The New Republic 11/07/05) describes how immigration has become a more salient issue in the American south.
"New Immigrants in New Places" describes new emerging gateway cities for immigration (Carnegie Reporter, Fall 2005).
Daniel Hopkins has an interesting paper "The Diversity Discount: How Increasing Ethnic and Racial Diversity Dampens Support for Tax Increases" (2006). Hopkins found that Massachusetts towns experiencing greater recent increases in diversity were less likely to approve property tax increases; moreover, he found that rates of change in diversity, rather than absolute levels, were significant. This suggests that diversity is only destabilizing to public investments in the short-term. And what changes most is the holding of votes for tax increases rather than approval rates (suggesting a role of political elites).
A December 2006 CNN poll found that roughly 9 out of 10 Americans do not feel that they themselves are racist. There were big racial divides: 49% of blacks saw racism as a very serious problem vs. only 18% of whites. Jack Dovidio, race expert at the University of Connecticut, estimates that up to 80% of white Americans have racist feelings they may not be able to articulate or see. Read story here.
"The Social Assimilation of Immigrants" (2006 by Domenico de Palo). In examining immigrants' social integration in EU countries they find: 1) , controlling for all else, that immigrants from non EU origins are less socially integrated; 2) that migrants converge to level of social integration of natives but quite slowly; and 3) that education helps build bridges between migrants and the community outside their close-in neighborhood.
The New York Times "Year in Ideas" (Dec. 2005) had a blurb on "Hypomanic Americans" describing why America's history as a land of immigrants (who are self-selected for their initiative and drive) and openness to new ideas may explain the U.S.'s relative success.
After 20 years researching segregation in communities, the academic now advising the government on integration talks to Madeleine Bunting about the key role of social contact in combating racial prejudice (Guardian, "World of Difference" column 9/5/07)
The Migration Institute's report "Unauthorized Migrants Living in the United States: A Mid-Decade Portrait" (Sept. 2005 by Jennifer Van Hook, Bowling Green State Univ.; Frank D. Bean, U. California, Irvine; and Jeffrey Passel, Pew Hispanic Center).
There is also a collection of papers provided by the Social Capital Gateway on the Challenges of Multiculturalism.
The New York Times Sunday Magazine had an interesting cover story on the economic implications of immigration on wages of longer-term U.S. residents. The story, called "The Immigration Equation" (by Roger Lowenstein, 7/9/06), highlights the debate between respected economists George Boras (saying it drives down wages of existing residents) and David Card (denying this is a significant impact of immigration).
A study about online social networks doesn't focus on diversity per se but does show that we are far more likely to trust others who share our taste in movies. Jennifer Golbeck, "Generating Predictive Movie Recommendations from Trust in Social Networks." (2006)
Some researchers, among them Robert Sampson, have concluded that neighborhoods that have more immigrants in them have lower levels of crime, potentially working through more social capital and greater social control. For a brief summary of such articles, see "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?" (New York Times, 12/3/06, Sunday Magazine Section, p. 20, by Eyal Press).
Language acquisition is important in the integration of immigrants into society. An article in the UK Prospect magazine (2006) "Language Games," was critical of efforts to help migrants learn English. And ESL in the United States is also a poorly coordinated effort.
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Growing Ethnic Tensions in Europe
Lawrence Wright's chilling "The Master Plan: For the new theorists of jihad, Al Qaeda is just the beginning" (New Yorker, Sept. 11, 2006) describes that one of the reasons why there hasn't been more U.S.-based Islamic terrorism is that American Muslims are much better integrated into U.S. society than Muslims are in European countries.
The Washington Post editorial Europe's Muslims (10/25/06) recaps growing tension regarding Muslims in Europe and avenues for stronger reintegration.
This Financial Times article summarizes some of the tensions surrounding immigration in the U.S. and Europe: "The price of prosperity: why fortress Europe needs to lower the drawbridge/MIGRATION/ An ageing continent must shed its ambivalence and go further down the path trodden by the US" (Financial Times, 5/18/06 p. 13).
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Impact of Skin Color on Treatment
A recent study from Vanderbilt economist Joni Hersch showed that lighter skinned immigrants earned more, controlling for other likely correlates. Hersch also had an earlier paper, "Skin Tone Effects among African Americans: Perceptions and Reality" (2005), showing that lighter skin increases educational attainment but generally does not increase wages, apart from the impact on education.
Jennifer Hochschild is integrating research across various disciplines showing how skin color rather than race is a stronger predictor of various outcomes. Her latest book (with Vesla Weaver and Traci Burch) is entitled Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America (2012). Click here for a summary of some of her research or see "Race, Skin Color, and Candidate Preference" (2005). Additionally, Burch has been pursuing a project with Hochschild to code the color of Georgia prisoners and show that parole and sentencing decisions were far less favorable to prisoners or defendants with darker color skin tone, controlling for other correlates.
Issues of Diversity and Social Capital in Culture:
We highly recommend Yellowman, by poet Dael Orlandersmith, which explores issues of discrimination within the black community based on skin tone (and is loosely based on an actual South Carolinian family's experience). The book was a Pulitzer nominee in 2002.
We also recommend Crash: a film, set in contemporary Los Angeles, that compellingly shows the challenge of social connection amidst diversity.
Farmingville is a powerful documentary that highlights the tensions in a Long Island community around Mexican day laborers.
And in the despicable department, CBS has launched a version of "Survivor" that attempts to pit racial groups against each other. [See "Will a Gimmick Help 'Survivor' Save Itself?" (New York Times, 9/15/06)
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