Press Release: Immigration does not significantly hurt social cohesion in Britain, new paper finds

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  • There is no conclusive evidence that diversity within UK communities creates a negative impact on social cohesion.
  • The majority of the research shows a small negative association between diversity and generalized trust within a community; but controlling for other factors, including neighborhood status, can eliminate the negative association altogether.
  • Frequently when non-trust measures are used as an indicator for social cohesion no negative relationship between diversity and cohesion is found in the UK; diversity does not appear to affect civic participation, trust in authority, or voluntary work.
  • London-centred research shows that higher levels of ethnic diversity actually have a positive effect on social cohesion.
  • The research undermines claims by some politicians that immigration places burdens on Britain’s social fabric.

Ethnic, cultural and racial diversity, which immigration to the UK typically drives, have very little negative impact on social cohesion, a new briefing paper from the Adam Smith Institute has concluded.

The paper, “The Ties that Bind: An analysis of the relationship between social cohesion, diversity, and immigration”, is a comprehensive review of the academic literature on the relationship between immigration and social cohesion in the Europe, the UK and the United States.

It concludes that higher levels of diversity only lead to a slight negative impact on generalized trust within UK communities; however, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that diversity undermines other measures of social cohesion, including civic participation, trust in authority and volunteer work in the UK.

Furthermore, the paper finds that if other factors are controlled for - including neighborhood status and economic deprivation – the negative relationship between diversity and cohesion often disappears.

While research from the U.S finds a clear negative relationship between immigration and social cohesion, research conducted on the national level throughout Europe finds no negative impacts of immigration on social cohesion; but neither sets of findings can be applied uncritically to the UK due to the specific, historical contexts of migration that occurred in each region.

Research that looks exclusively at London is also highlighted in the paper, which finds that once economic deprivation is controlled for, higher levels of ethnic diversity actually have a positive effect on measures of social cohesion. While London’s relationship with immigration is not directly comparable to the rest of the UK, the majority of migrants that come to the UK settle in London, making it an important finding.

The research contradicts the claim by some politicians that immigration, while economically beneficial to the UK, must be restricted because it undermines the country’s social fabric.

Author of the report, James Dobson said:

Immigration continues to be one of the most important and controversial issues in British politics. Whilst the economic debate surrounding migration is well-rehearsed, the social impact of migration has frequently been neglected.

Politicians have often claimed that migration damages community cohesion, but the evidence for this claim is far from clear. Studies in Europe and the UK have frequently failed to find a correlation between high levels of diversity and low levels of social cohesion. Indeed some studies have even observed that highly diverse communities can be more cohesive than more homogeneous areas.

Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute Ben Southwood added:

The published economic research is clear that immigrants don't take away jobs—in fact they raise wages for natives; they help bear the UK's debt burden by taking out less in benefits than they pay in; and they increase productivity.

But do they undermine the social cohesion and trust that underlies the success of developed countries?

It's commonplace to say they do, with figures like Nigel Farage suggesting diversity might be one reason for the decline of children playing in the street. But the evidence is inconclusive. Our new paper finds little evidence at all of diversity and migration undermining the bonds that undergird society.

Lawmakers should be aware of the research before they rush to crack down on migration.

Notes to editors:

Read “The Ties that Bind: An analysis of the relationship between social cohesion, diversity, and immigration” here.

The Adam Smith Institute is an free market, libertarian think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.