News Release

Childhood exposure to diversity is best chance for community cohesion in immigration

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Kent

New research from the University of Kent reveals social cohesion with immigration is best ensured through childhood exposure to diversity in local neighbourhoods, leading to acceptance of other groups.

The research, which is published in Oxford Economic Papers, builds on the Nobel Laureate economist Thomas Schelling's Model of Segregation, which showed that a slight preference by individuals and families towards their own groups can eventually result in complete segregation of communities.

Shedding new light on this issue, researchers from Kent's School of Economics have introduced the theory that adaptability to a diverse social environment depends on greater exposure to diversity in childhood years. Following this increased acceptance of other social groups in a community, social diversity and cohesion is then sustainable.

A model of immigration based on this theory shows that fast-paced immigration into a community reduces social cohesion and increases social segregation, which explains the recent evolution of social diversity within UK communities and social attitudes towards other groups. The study also shows a medium pace of immigration is more effective in establishing acceptance of diversity within communities, leading to greater community cohesion over time.

Dr Zaki Wahhaj, Reader in Economics at the University of Kent and joint author of the paper, said: 'For a long time there has been a blind spot in debates around immigration and the social integration of minority groups: namely, that sustaining social cohesion requires not only adaption by immigrants but also a shift in how majority groups see themselves. We discovered that bringing insights from psychology - that childhood experiences are key to forming identity - easily overturns the predictions of standard economic models for studying social segregation.'


The paper 'Social diversity and bridging identity' (Dr Zaki Wahhaj and Dr Maria Garcia-Alonso, School of Economics, University of Kent) is available at Oxford Economic Papers.

DOI: 10.1093/oep/gpaa053


For further information or interview requests, please contact Sam Wood at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 01227 823581

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Notes to Editors

The University of Kent is a leading UK university producing world-class research, rated internationally excellent and leading the way in many fields of study. Our 20,000 students are based at campuses and centres in Canterbury, Medway, Brussels and Paris.

With 97% of our research judged to be of international quality in the most recent Research Assessment Framework (REF2014), our students study with some of the most influential thinkers in the world. Universities UK recently named research from the University as one of the UK's 100 Best Breakthroughs of the last century for its significant impact on people's everyday lives.

We are renowned for our inspirational teaching. Awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), we were presented with the Outstanding Support for Students award at the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for the second year running.

Our graduates are equipped for a successful future allowing them to compete effectively in the global job market. More than 95% of graduates find a job or study opportunity within six months.

The University is a truly international community with over 40% of our academics coming from outside the UK and our students representing over 150 nationalities.

We are a major economic force in south east England, supporting innovation and enterprise. We are worth £0.9 billion to the economy of the south east and support more than 9,400 jobs in the region.

In March 2018, the Government and Health Education England (HEE) announced that the joint bid by the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University for funded places to establish a medical school has been successful. The first intake of undergraduates to the Kent and Medway Medical School will be in September 2020.

We are proud to be part of Canterbury, Medway and the county of Kent and, through collaboration with partners, work to ensure our global ambitions have a positive impact on the region's academic, cultural, social and economic landscape.

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