Diversity and Social Capital in the U.S: A Tale of Conflict, Contact or Total Mistrust?∗

Willie James Belton, Ruth Uwaifo Oyelere, Yameen Huq


This paper explores the relationship between ethnic fractionalization and social capital. First, using data from 1990, 1997 and 2005 we test for time differences in the impact of ethnic fractionalization on social capital. Subsequently, we examine U.S. data for evidence consistent with the pro- posed outcomes in the conflict, contact, or hunker-down theses discussed in Putnam (2007). Putnam (2007) examines what happens to “trust” or “social capital” when individuals of different ethnicity are introduced into social, political and/or economic groups over time. Using an instru- mental variable (IV) estimator, we find little evidence of heterogeneity in the impact of ethnic fractionalization on social capital over our period of analysis. In addition, using both fixed effect and IV estimators, we reject the contact hypothesis, but find evidence consistent with the outcomes predicted in both conflict hypothesis and Putnam’s hunker-down hypoth- esis in inter-ethnic relations. Due to data limitations, we are unable to test directly which of these two thesis are more relevant for the U.S ex- perience. However, we provide suggestive evidence in support of conflict hypothesis over the hunker-down hypothesis.  Our results suggest that as communities become more diverse, there is a tendency for social capital to decline.


Ethnic Fractionalization; Social Capital; Trust; Diversity; Social Networks

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5202/rei.v9i2.263

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