With time, people can adapt to societal diversity and actually benefit from it, according to a study.
Whenever people feel insecure for economic reasons and society around them changes, it becomes tempting for politicians to blame immigrants for these feelings of insecurity, even when this is not really the case. It is up to political leaders to set the right tone and message to counteract distrust in the short term so as to encourage integration in the long run.
“If you give people who are different from you half a chance, they will integrate into society pretty well. It is when you purposefully push them out, or erect barriers against them, those problems are introduced. It’s important for our political leaders to set the right tone, so proper integration can occur,” said Douglas, professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
The research team examined 22 years of psychological, sociological, and demographic data from multiple waves of the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the Latino Barometer Survey. Together the three datasets included more than 338,000 respondents interviewed in more than 100 countries.
The investigators combined various measures of life satisfaction, happiness, and health to create a “quality of life index” for respondents to each survey. Then, they examined the association between this index and religious diversity.
Unlike ethnicity and race, which aren’t always collected in surveys and are often measured using divergent categories, religion is well recorded using comparable categories. “Religion is a convenient way to look at the issue of social diversity,” Massey said.
The researchers analysed the short-term effects of religious diversity on quality of life as perceived by individuals at different points in time but also assessed the long-term effects of diversity on quality of life in different countries over longer spans of time.
The European Social Survey not only allowed the researchers to measure religious diversity and quality of life, but it also permitted them to assess social trust and intergroup contact.
These additional measures allowed the investigators to perform a “mediation analysis” that considered both the direct and indirect effects of religious diversity on quality of life.
They found that over short two-year periods rising religious diversity acted to reduce social trust, and thereby undermined the quality of life. Over a longer twelve-year period, however, diversity led to greater intergroup contact that increased social trust to offset the negative short-term influence of diversity on quality of life.
These findings have important policy implications, especially for immigration reform.