Immigrant Diversity and Social Cohesion

Immigration to Western European countries is nothing new. Arguably, the diversity of immigrants has increased in recent years. Inevitably, this leads to a more divers population in most European countries, and this diversity is viewed by some with scepticism. The fear is that increased (ethnic) diversity due to immigration threatens social cohesion. However, despite similar demographic developments across Western European countries, reactions to increased diversity have been quite different across countries. The reason for this can be found in historical legacies and the development of the welfare state — an institution that is inclusive by design.

The concept of social cohesion is broad, to say the least. A simple definition can be derived from shared values and feelings of togetherness in society. Depending on the political colour, either aspect tends to be highlighted. A minimalistic definition thus insists on individuals feeling part of society, and trusting each other — other groups and individuals accepted as full members of society.

In the context of immigration, five indicators can be considered: generalized trust, naturalization rates, confidence in key institutions, early leavers, and voter turnout.

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