Social cohesion survives Howard, multiculturalism etc etc

The Age tried hard to find negatives in the Mapping Social Cohesion report released today, but

…while [co-author] Professor Andrew Markus said the study had “highlighted some issues which can be taken up”, he said the overall picture was a “very positive one”.

Despite all the fuss about ‘dog whistles’ and ‘divisiveness’ during the Howard years, and from the other side about the supposedly dire consequences of ‘multiculturalism’ during the Hawke and Keating years, attitudinal research suggests that ‘social cohesion’ remains high. Australians overwhelmingly have a ‘sense of belonging’, whether born here (96.9%) or overseas (94.4%). Pride in the Australian way of life is high whether the respondent was born here (94.4%) or overseas (90.4%). Migrants are slightly more likely (81.4%) than those born here (79.6%) to think that Australia is a land of economic opportunity and that their life will be improved in three or four years (55.6%/46%).

This isn’t to say, of course, that things go smoothly all the time. A quarter of respondents had experienced discrimination at some time in their lives because of their ethnic or national background, and 8% on the basis of their religion. 6% say they experience discrimination on a regular basis of once a month or more. This is broadly consistent with previous research.

The most surprising finding came from some local surveys of respondents speaking Cantonese, Mandarin of Vietnamese (n=175) or of a Middle Eastern background (n=298). The Asian respondents were much more likely to say they had ever been discriminated against because of their national or ethnic background (53.6%) than the Middle Eastern (29.2%), though the latter were much more likely to claim religious discrimination (27.5%/2%). Asians were more likely to say that they had been verbally abused (35.2%/21.8%) and to say they had been discriminated against in seeking employment or at work (19.5%/12.4%).

This is inconsistent with previous published research suggesting that Middle Eastern people in general, and Muslims in particular, are the least popular ethnic and religious groups in Australia. Perhaps it is due to the small sample sizes, the inclusion of Turks in ‘Middle Eastern’, or the fact that one group was chosen by language and the other by background. People who speak English fluently and fully understand Australian culture and practices are probably less likely to experience discrimination, even if they are part of an ethnic or religious group that is relatively unpopular.

24 thoughts on “Social cohesion survives Howard, multiculturalism etc etc

  1. One explanation could just be that Asians stand out more visually – so they attract more attention. Lots of people from middle eastern backgrounds blend in visually – many people from Middle Eastern backgrounds just look like caucasians with tanned complexions and dark hair.

    People might not like people of Middle Eastern background in theory, but in practice they may not be able to distinguish the difference until they have spoken to them.


  2. People inclined to hurl racial abuse might also find Asians less physically intimidating than Middle Easterners. Leaving aside drug and gang-related violence, I guess Asians may also be viewed as less hot-headed and less inclined to retaliate than Middle Easterners as well.


  3. “I guess Asians may also be viewed as less hot-headed and less inclined to retaliate than Middle Easterners as well.”

    But what about Bruce Lee?


  4. “Asians” get out and about more – much higher employment rates, enrolment in higher education, high cross culture marriage rates, live in a more diverse cross-section of Australian states, cities and towns – than “Middle Easterners”, who are much more concentrated geographically, much more likely to be unemployed, little exogomous activity, etc.

    Therefore “Asians” find themselves in a much more diverse range of situations and circumstances and therefore of course many, many more opportunities to be racially/ethnically/culturally/religiously harrassed than “Middle Easterners.”

    Also, as AN noted ,there are reporting differences as Middle Eastern Muslims do not recognise distinctions between religion/culture/race as much as the rest of us do.

    Does any of this research reveal the extent to which the rest of us feel threatened/vilified/harrassed by other “cultures/races?” For example who harrasses/vilifies/threatens more, “Asians” or “Middle Easterners” or ‘Aborigines” or “Islanders” or “Celts” or “Africans” or Kalahari bushmen?” After all, come on, surely we have all long moved beyond this postcolonialist Luvvies trope that it is big, bad, Anglo whitey who is uniquely evil and racist?


  5. Also, “Asians” are culturally encouraged to be go-getters and to make things happen. OTOH, the victim mindset is drilled into “Middle Easterners” from birth. It is part of their religion. “Oh boo hoo, it was the Jews of Medina! Oh boo hoo, it was the Byzantines! Oh boo hoo, it was the Persians! Oh boo hoo, it was the Mongols! Oh boo hoo, it was the Seljuks! Oh boo hoo, it was the Ossmans! Oh boo hoo, it was the Malmuks! Oh boo hoo it was the French and British! Oh boo hoo it was the Jews! Oh boo hoo, it was the UN! Oh boo hoo it was the Russians! Oh boo hoo, it was the Zionists! Oh boo hoo, it was the Americans! Oh boo hoo, it was the Shia! Oh boo hoo it was Hamas! Oh boo hoo it’s the Persians again! Ohh boo hoo, it’s the Danish! Oh, boo hoo it’s the Dutch, Oh boo hoo, did we mention the Jews! Oh boo hoo, its the Skippies! Oh boo, its the Islamophobes!”

    I’m sure we get the picture.


  6. “Also, “Asians” are culturally encouraged to be go-getters and to make things happen.”

    Really? Lee Kuan Yew used to go on about how lazy Indians were and how hard working the Chinese were.

    But they’re both Asians.


  7. “But, as always, John, your cliched generalisations are preposterous.”

    Though p.128 of the report provides some evidence consistent with the ‘Middle Eastern’ groups being particularly work shy. And surely we can draw some cultural inferences from Asian countries booming and the failure of Arab economies to develop beyond oil.


  8. AN

    There is really not even a need to get that analytical. My point was quite neutral about being “work shy.” The FACTS on unemployment are crystal clear. As my point was only about the variety of different interactions people find themselves in, I am assuming if you are unemployed you are much less “out and about” than if you are employed. Maybe that is an erroneous assumption, but it surely makes intuitive sense, no?


  9. “we can draw some cultural inferences from Asian countries booming”

    North Korea?



    The Philippines?


  10. “p.128 of the report provides some evidence consistent with the ‘Middle Eastern’ groups being particularly work shy.”

    Of course, this is also consistent with labour market discrimination. Separating the two is an empirical question.


  11. Spiros – I’d be fascinated to see your argument as to why culture is irrelevant to economic outcomes, particularly in reference to why different cultural groups vary so much in outcomes despite living in identical institutional environments.

    Remember this is social science, which deals in tendencies. Exceptions do not disprove tendencies.


  12. Andrew – True, though on the data in this report Asian people both experience higher discrimination than Middle Eastern people AND have lower unemployment and higher workforce participation rates.


  13. Andrew, I didn’t say culture is irrelevant. I was warning against gross generalisations. First, there’s no such thing as a generic Asian culture. Second, even between like cultures, there can be vastly different economic outcomes, for instance North and South Korea, or China pre 1978 and post 1978.


  14. Sprios

    Unless you can relate your “warning” to the data and analysis here, it is just a Luvvie red-herring.


  15. Spiros – I don’t like ‘gross’ generalisations either, and I would not make the point the way JG did. Nor do I think there is generic Asian culture, but it is notable that in several Asian cultures they have both developed institutions conducive to economic growth and then seen actual growth that has been staggering in its scale and speed. The Chinese diaspora has also been very entrepreneurial. No Arab country has ever done this, despite their natural resources and proximity to European markets.


  16. “The Chinese diaspora has also been very entrepreneurial. No Arab country has ever done this, despite their natural resources and proximity to European markets.”

    I disagree. Arabs were very entrepreneurial in the slave trade.

    As for the Chinese, well of course. But that Confucionist culture was present when China was going terribly, economy-wise.

    Then there’s the Indians. Bone idle on some accounts, but the business class in Fiji is entirely Indian, much to the annoyance of the native Fijians. Big successes in Silicon Valley, big failures elsewhere. Same culture, vastly different outcomes.


  17. Spiros mentioned the Phillippines. Very bad example and at the same time very apt in other respects. The Chinese are as economically dominant in the Philippines as they are in Malaysia and almost as equally resented for that reason – and the Fillipinos are essentially ethnic Malays who just happened to have ended up Catholic instead of Muslim (like the Malays in Malaysia did). The main difference is that in addition as a slight counterweight to the Chinese in the Philippines you have a wealthy essentially mestizo landowning class who are part Spanish/Fillipino and sometimes with Chinese thrown in, so the racial divide doesn’t appear that evident in practice as it is in Malaysia. In any case non British colonies are not as conducive to releasing the entrepreneurial energies of their residents, especially those with a Spanish influence – not surprising when you consider how dysfunctional a lot of Latin America is.

    As another counter-example to the ‘Asians are entreprenerial thesis’ Spiros could just have as easily pointed to the difference in performance between the Malays and Chinese but of course there is no generic ‘Asian’ culture within Asia some ‘Asians’ consider other ‘Asians’ to be more entrepreneurial and therefore some Asians have the same stereotype about other Asians than Westerners have about Asians – but it is partly based on fact and essentially refers to the overseas Chinese diaspora. But to complicate matters this ‘entrepreneurial’ ethic specifically refers to a very narrow self-selected group of essentially southern Chinese diaspora.

    The dialect group of one side of my extended family for instance – the Hakka – has historically tended to direct ambitions into reaching the professional classes, politics and civil service instead (thus not surprisingly Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, Lee Teng Hui – who at one time were all simultaneously heads of Singapore, Taiwan and China were all Hakka) rather than business and is arguably not as entrepreneurial as the ubiquitous Cantonese restaurant owner, for instance.


  18. Hmm, I posted two articles here yesterday that have disappeared.

    One included a classic example of mistakenly associating economic outcomes with cultural/ethnic/religious traits – that of assuming Ireland was floundering because of the lack of a “Protestant work ethic”.


  19. testing…

    Here’s what the SMH report says…

    The Mapping Social Cohesion survey found that 51.3 per cent of life-long Australians who lived in high immigrant areas believed the number of immigrants is too high…

    …It doesn’t really surprise us that there are people in areas of high immigrant concentration who are older established Australians … (and have) a level of discomfort or even opposition to the direction of government policy,” said the report’s director, Professor Andrew Markus from Monash University.

    But this contradicts the conventional wisdom at the ABC, that all prejudice against the Calathumpian community is born out of ignorance, and so their propaganda unit simply leaves the above part out and inserts this instead…

    Areas where [people] haven’t had a lot of contact with people from other cultures, immigrant groups, and so on, there has been less acceptance,” he said.

    I think you’ll find the polar opposite to be true. Barrack Obama received his highest margin, not in cosmopolitan New York or half black South Carolina, but in mostly white Iowa.

    Here’s an idea for some research: go out to Western New South Wales and ask the locals about their feelings towards Native Americans, and then ask them how they feel about aboriginals. Then go to an equivalent community in North America and repeat.

    ‘Tolerance’ is cheap when you have no contact with a group. That’s why North Shore doctors’ wives are brimming over with it. In the days of Apartheid, I used to know this bloke who’d bang on about how racist the Afrikaners were between telling ‘Abo’ jokes.


  20. G’day,
    I know Prof. Markus and have had the opportunity to hear him present on this research, which was very interesting. I’m doing research specifically on Australian Muslims with a focus on issues to do with social inclusion and social recognition.

    The ME migrants largely came out in the sixties and seventies and filled blue-collar jobs. It is their children who make up the biggest percentage of Australian-born Muslims, but the job market has shifted since then. We are becoming a post-industrial society. So, as Robin Murray has noted “key forms of autonomy (and social inclusion?) are no longer based on the nation state, but are instead established at the level of
    consumer, communities and production systems.” (in O’Brien _Poverty and Social Exclusion: North and South, IDS Working Paper 55, 1997)

    Possibly because Muslim migrants come from so many different ethnic, language and national backgrounds, it is religion they share in common, and which becomes their marker of difference. Whereas for Asians migrating to Australia, their markers of difference are more ethnic and language based rather than religion. Perhaps Asians are more ready to perceive racial discrimination because it is their major marker of difference.


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