In Australia, migrants less likely to volunteer says research
11 February 2008
Sydney, Australia: Migrants from non-English speaking countries are less likely to be volunteers than Australian-born people or migrants from English-speaking nations, a new study shows.
Ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have lower levels of volunteering - even among their Australian-born residents.
The study, by Ernest Healy, senior research fellow at the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, challenges the notion that ethnic diversity leads to a stronger, more cohesive society.
"When you create societies from mixed backgrounds it may not lead to overt violence … but to something scarier, a withdrawal from the civic sphere," Dr Healy said, "a feeling of less connectedness."
Using levels of volunteering as an indicator of social cohesion, the study shows that suburbs with a high degree of ethnic diversity have markedly lower rates of volunteering than more homogenous localities.
The study, based on 2006 census data for Melbourne, shows migrants from non-English speaking countries are less likely to be volunteers than Australian-born or people from English-speaking countries, even when their income and age are similar. Length of residence in Australia makes little difference, and nor does citizenship, but English proficiency has a small impact. About 18 per cent of Australian-born middle-income earners aged 25-64 were volunteers, for example, but only 13 per cent of those from non-English speaking countries.
But in ethnically diverse areas, both the Australian-born residents and the migrants from non-English speaking countries are less likely to volunteer than their counterparts in the more homogenous neighbourhoods.
Dr Healy said the results were likely to be similar for Sydney.
He said it would be wrong to conclude migrants from non-English speaking countries were unfriendly and uncaring and less altruistic than Australian-born people. It was likely their altruism was directed to friends, families and neighbours, not through organised civic, sporting, and welfare organisations.
However, altruism directed through formal groups represented a "commitment to the broader social good".
The findings appear to support research by Robert Puttnam, of Harvard University, that ethnic diversity can hasten a withdrawal from "collective life".
Dr Healy said the assumption multiculturalism would automatically lead to strong cohesive communities without government assistance may have been naive.