Trust and Ethno-Linguistic Heterogenity

Via Andrew Norton’s blog, I’ve come across a very interesting paper [PDF] by Andrew Leigh at the Australian National University (Andrew is also a blogger). The paper details Andrew’s research into which social and economic determinants most affect trust in Australian society.

The abstract reads:

Using a large Australian social survey, combined with precise data on neighbourhood characteristics, I explore the factors that affect trust at a local level (‘localised trust’) and at a national level (‘generalised trust’). Trust is positively associated with the respondent’s education, and negatively associated with the amount of time spent commuting. At a neighbourhood level, trust is higher in affluent areas, and lower in ethnically and linguistically heterogeneous communities, with the effect being stronger for linguistic heterogeneity than ethnic heterogeneity. Linguistic heterogeneity reduces localised trust for both natives and immigrants, and reduces generalised trust only for immigrants. Instrumental variables specifications show similar results. In contrast to the USA, there is no apparent relationship between trust and inequality across neighbourhoods in Australia.

Of particularly interest to Muslims, is that Andrew found that linguistic fractionalisation is a far more significant determinant of localised trust than ethnic fractionalisation. In other words, cohesive communities seem to be built more on a shared language than a shared ethnicity or culture. Although the ‘debate’ about Muslims not learning English has, at times, taken on a fairly nasty tone and some Muslims have been as defensive about the issue as other commentators have been aggressive, Andrew’s findings seem to support the idea that developing a proficiency in English is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the most important ingredient for a successful and cohesive multicultural society.