Making Diversity Work: New Behavioural Indicators of Social Cohesion in Multiethnic Communities

Research question/goal: 

Recent trends in global migration have raised public concerns about the potentially negative consequences of ethnic diversity for social solidarity in Western societies. Few studies to date however have sought to explain how trust and cooperation can conversely be sustained in diverse settings. Against this backdrop, the proposed research aims to create novel behavioural indicators of social cohesion across multiethnic German neighbourhoods in order to analyse the emergence of positive community relations. In contrast to existing studies which predominately privilege comparisons between ethnically-homogenous and heterogeneous areas, a key contribution of the proposed research is to focus explicitly on important unexamined differences between highly-diverse contexts in order to understand the conditions under which diversity may undermine or, conversely, promote cooperation.

Using innovative field experimental methods, this research will develop a sophisticated set of behavioural indicators to map variation in "prosocial" behaviour across diverse urban areas. Further, this new data will be used to (i) systematically test novel theories about how different features of diverse neighbourhoods contribute to local cooperation, (ii) disentangle the individual-level mechanisms—other-regarding preferences, social norms enforcement, and intergroup contact—underlying social cohesion in multiethnic settings, and (iii) develop a richer understanding of social relations that takes both natives’ and minorities’ experiences into account. Overall, results from this research will open up new scientific perspectives on cooperation in diverse communities and generate critical policy knowledge about how to "make diversity work" in an era of rapid demographic change.

Current stage: 

In its second year, the project has made progress in several studies. The first study consisted of a lost letter experiment in 13 German cities. The second involved an analysis of native–refugee contact using geolocated SOEP data. Manuscripts based on the two studies are currently under review at scientific journals. For the third study, we are designing a field experiment on language tandem partnerships between refugees and natives, with fieldwork planned for winter 2023. The fourth study consists of a survey experiment on trust in religious Muslims, which has already been fielded on the German Internet Panel. A complementary field experiment is being planned.

Fact sheet

Emmy Noether Junior Research Group (DFG)
2021 to 2027
Data Sources: 
Field Experiments
Geographic Space: