Exploring the relationship between ethnic heterogeneity, intergroup relations and stress

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Institute of Applied Social Sciences


Demographic trends reveal that societies have become more ethnically diverse, and the implications of this have received much scholarly attention - focusing particularly on critical societal variables such as economic performance and neighbourhood trust. Today's increasing diversity poses challenges as people are having contact with new cultures, norms, and values, or avoiding such encounters. Some argue that group competition and conflict is inevitable, and existing research has investigated the effects on subjective perceptions (e.g. trust). However, we will explore whether living in diverse areas has detectable effects on people's biomarkers capturing levels of inflammation and chronic stress. The project will analyse the self-reported data together with the biological blood data contained in two major British surveys that have tracked individuals over time - Understanding Society and the National Child Development Study - and use sophisticated statistical methods (i.e., longitudinal, multilevel and structural equation modelling techniques). The findings will help identify risk factors as well as positive aspects of diversity that will inform leaders and policy makers in planning responses to the broad range of diversity-related challenges.

We will explore these issues using a longitudinal, collaborative, interdisciplinary and policy-focused approach to investigate how ethnic diversity influences biological stress responses, and how positive and negative experiences of contact and threat influence the relationship. Our research team, which includes investigators and advisors from the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, University of York, University of Manchester, and Department for Communities and Local Government, has extensive experience to address the following questions:

1. Is the ethnic diversity of local areas associated with higher or lower levels of stress?
We are interested in exploring the link between the ethnic diversity of areas and stress responses and whether these patterns vary by ethnicity. Some argue that diversity leads to competition, threat and poorer intergroup relations; and we will analyse biological stress responses to these circumstances. We will also explore the effect that other features of neighbourhoods have on stress, including social deprivation, social inequality, etc.
2. What role do negative (e.g. threat and crime) and positive (e.g. intergroup contact) correlates of diversity play?
We will explore if negative factors that affect stress (e.g., discrimination and crime) are mitigated by positive factors (e.g., contact, trust, and safety). We will explore the impact of threat and intergroup contact on stress responses, focusing on trust, crime, safety, discrimination and social network composition. We will explicitly focus on the pathways of biological stress outcomes.
3. Does the way we measure ethnic diversity have an impact on the findings?
We will incorporate the latest research developments that demonstrate that different measures of diversity yield different theoretical predictions and empirical results. We will test these findings in our analyses of stress markers.
4. What is the best way to address the effects of diversity, threat and contact, and what is their relationship to other factors such as social deprivation and poverty?
We will use our findings and feedback from our advisory group to build an evidence base to reflect and inform how these diversity and deprivation-related issues could be utilised by policy makers and government officials. If neighbourhood deprivation has more negative effects than diversity, recommendations can be made to improve socioeconomic circumstances in those areas.

We will disseminate the project outputs to a wide audience using diverse dissemination and impact activities, including: scientific publications, policy briefings, press releases, dissemination events and webpage content.

Planned Impact

Public Sector: Local and national governmental departments and agencies in the UK are the main stakeholders (e.g. Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Communities and Local Government), as the project addresses issues on ethnicity, discrimination, health and intergroup relations, which are relevant to areas of social cohesion more generally. The main value of the project will be in delivering accessible cutting-edge scientific evidence as a lever for policy change. It will target policies addressing equality, discrimination, and segregation with the aim of promoting tolerance, openness, and the representation of society's diverse ethnic groups. The dissemination of outputs to the public sector will rely on the close collaboration with our advisory group from existing network partnerships, which will be critical in interpreting and communicating the project's findings and making policy recommendations.

Third Sector: Third Sector organisations focusing on social cohesion and inclusion will benefit from the project and evidence-base for their work. For example, longstanding supporters of the TSRC, with which Bennett has and ongoing association, such as the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Lloyds Bank Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and major national infrastructure bodies for the voluntary sector, such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) are examples of organisations whose strategies would benefit from the findings of this work. The ongoing Civil Society Futures inquiry, reporting in 2019 and chaired by Julia Unwin, is also concerned with these questions of community cohesion and think tanks (e.g. Demos, Young Foundation, of which Hewstone is a Fellow) will also benefit from the project's findings. The project events will also provide third sector organisations with networking and collaboration opportunities with other beneficiaries, such as academics and public sector employees.

General Public: The value to the general public will be in the dissemination of research outputs. We will contribute to informing and improving the public debate by providing rigorous research based on a comprehensive evidence base. The public will benefit from the information published regarding the impact of diversity, deprivation and social relations on health and stress. In particular, the implications on public health could have a significant impact on public policy implementation. We will increase the awareness and publicity of the research though a range of strategies. We will write pieces for well-visited media outlets featuring articles written by academics for the public (e.g., "The Conversation"). As a broader dissemination strategy, our team will host a project webpage to engage widely with the public. Together with its written content, it will contain videos featuring our members summarising main findings and discussing their implications. Our Advisory Group will issue press releases for the briefings and events, and disseminate to specialist media outlets for wider general public coverage.

Academia: The main academic beneficiaries will be researchers from a range of interdisciplinary fields (including sociology, social policy, psychology, epidemiology, economics, and political science). The project will produce important and timely theoretical, empirical and methodological contributions. This will be achieved in the form of academic outputs such as publications, conferences and workshops, project events, and internal training workshops. The project will build significant capacity in this research area.


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