Commentators have noticed recently that our societies are becoming more divided, individuals more alienated, and many communities seem to be falling apart. Social fragmentation is a topic of great concern to social scientists. It is a measure of interpersonal networks and integration within a community of people, and a high degree of social fragmentation is associated with many ills, including high crime rates and low mental health.
…it does not include a comprehensive analysis of the effects of immigration…
A recent University of Manchester study adds to the literature surrounding the issue, showing that the rise in singles and privately rented households drove an observed increase in social fragmentation in the period from 2001 to 2011. The authors of the study say that their finding has profound implications for mental health provisions in England.
There is nothing new about the connection between single life and poor mental health. For instance, in 2010, Harvard Health Publishing reported that married men are happier than single or divorced men. The Manchester study suggests that one cause of this unhappiness is social fragmentation. However, a major flaw in the study is that it does not include a comprehensive analysis of the effects of immigration, which is arguably the most important cause of reduced social cohesion.
Before mass immigration from into Europe, the notion of “no go zones” did not exist across the continent. Today, the number of neighborhoods where outsiders, primarily indigenous Europeans, cannot safely enter has increased explosively. In 2015, the Swedish police identified 61 “vulnerable areas” in Sweden where even the police do not dare enter unarmed.
London, which the study identified as one of the most socially fragmented regions of England, also happens to be the region most heavily affected by immigration, where the inner city is now no longer majority English. The study curiously concludes that migration has had a low impact on social fragmentation because the researchers’ metric only includes population turnover due to relocation, not demographic changes due to immigration.
Diversity Increases Social Fragmentation
The famous sociologist Robert Putnam found evidence that “immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital.” He also found that “in ethnically diverse [American] neighborhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down.’ Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.”
Similar studies across Europe have all shown the same phenomenon. Historically it was well-known that cultural homogeneity was a major advantage to a society, and it is only in recent decades that the notion of diversity has been touted as a strength.
In 1932, the Swedish Nobel laureates Alva and Gunnar Myrdal argued for the establishment of the welfare state: “The Scandinavian countries, and particularly Sweden, by historical accident, are given the most advantageous set of prerequisites for a bold experiment in Social Democracy. If it cannot successfully be developed in Scandinavia, given by historical chance quite exceptionally advantageous conditions, it would probably not work out anywhere else.”
One of the “exceptionally advantageous conditions” they identified was a unique cultural homogeneity and a high degree of social cohesion and trust.
Diversity Can Work
All is not bleak, however. Under highly specific circumstances, a community can survive and even thrive on some degree of ethnic and cultural diversity. It turns out that homogeneity is only needed in a few core values: civic code and language. Singapore, which was born out of an ethnic civil war, has implemented an immigration policy to ensure that social trust is maintained.
A key factor to their success is to give easy visa access only to people who work and pay entirely for their own stay. They also make it very hard for immigrants to obtain citizenship, and thereby prevent them from voting kleptocratically for their own tribe. Thereby, the citizens will not be threatened by the presence of immigrants.
America and Europe can learn from Singapore to avoid the increasing threat of social fragmentation in their own societies. So far, America is in much better shape than many European countries due to a more meritocratic immigration system, but the dark clouds that are descending on Europe provide an ample warning of pitfalls to be avoided.