Diversity and Societal Happiness: A Troubled Marriage?

The Influence of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity on Life Satisfaction

Reviewed by Chris Meyer
May 16, 2014

To what extent are we to value diversity as a normative societal good? How does the diversity of a given society affect the happiness of those that comprise it? These are weighty questions for any scholar of modern politics, and are particularly important as globalization and communications technology bring people and communities into closer contact with one another. In his paper, “The Influence of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity on Life Satisfaction,” Hank Eckardt of the University of Notre Dame carries out a statistical analysis on these issues, finding that increases in diversity can lower reported levels of happiness in the short-term.

Eckardt bases his analysis off two separate metrics of diversity, namely ethnic fractionalization and cultural fractionalization, which he draws from from the work of Stanford political scientist James Fearon. His robust and fixed-effects regressions find that, when controlling for a variety of other factored such as age, sex, and marital status, increases in both of these parameters decrease levels of individual happiness within a given society. He draws his definition of “societal happiness” from the World Values Survey, a time-series dataset that evaluates shifts in values and beliefs across 81 separate countries.

Although his results are significant to a high degree of certainty, Eckardt’s work would likely benefit from a more thorough theoretical justification for the inclusion of certain control variables, as well as a more in-depth discussion of confounding variables like oppressive political structures, civil conflict, or a history of religious tension and persecution. The work’s originality, however, lies in its exploration of a topic that had previously only received scholarly attention at a local level. In that respect, Eckardt’s work opens the door for further examination of what is an undoubtedly vital issue in modern political science.

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