Country and city prejudices

Commenter Conrad questioned the claim by commenter Charles that country schools teach tolerance better than city schools.

I don’t have any direct measures of tolerance by region, but we do have survey evidence on ethnic attitudes by region. The 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes included several social distance questions, which ask what degree of closeness the respondent is prepared to have with a member of a particular group. The categories are welcome as family member, welcome as close friend, have as next door neighbour, welcome as work mates, allow as Australian citizen, have as visitor only, and keep out of Australia altogether.

There was also a question asking respondents to classify where they lived. I have looked at three locations – rural and small town combined, outer metropolitan, and inner metropolitan.

I looked only at the extremes – what proportion of people in each locality either wanted a high social distance, keep out of Australia or have as a visitor only, or were happy with a low social distance, have as family member or as a close friend.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Lebanese were not very popular, with 31% of rural/small town respondents, 25% of outer metropolitan respondents, and 20% of inner metropolitan respondents wanting high social distance. The corresponding figures for low social distance were 27%, 34% and 41%.

For the Vietnamese, 26% of rural/small town respondents, 17% of outer metropolitan respondents, and 13% of inner metropolian respondents wanted high social distance. The corresponding figures for low social distance were 28%, 38% and 45%.

Even for racists my high social distance measure would seem a bit rough on Aborigines, but nevertheless about 5% of all respondent groups would not allow indigenous people to be citizens. The low social distance scores were stronger and closer together by locality than for the other groups: 41% for rural/small town respondents, 43% for outer-metropolitan, and 48% for inner metropolitan.

Overall, Conrad is right if attitudes provide motivation for action. But I know what Charles was talking about. Being very much a city person, I never had much contact with people from rural areas until I tutored for a few years at the Australian Defence Force Academy, which recruits strongly outside the cities. The country cadets often had a very natural warmth to them; after a while I could take a pretty good guess where a cadet came from just by the way he or she was interacting with me.

On the other hand, I also know what Conrad was getting at. When we held a tutorial on indigenous issues, they made their views very clear. They were fed up with the problems they saw Aboriginal people causing in their home towns. Unfortunately, attitudes based on personal experience rather than general impressions are likely to be hard to shift.

5 thoughts on “Country and city prejudices

  1. I think we should be happy with that pattern (ignoring the overall means and the Aboriginal data). What it shows you is that the people least likely to bump into the groups that are stereotypically socially disliked are the most likely to dislike them. This suggests a reasonable role for stereotyping and ignorance.

    If I compare that to where I work in France now and then, apart from the overall means (surveys suggesting things like 80% of people think there are too many Arabs are common), what you find is the opposite pattern — generally the closer you are to the disliked groups, the more you dislike them, which is a much more serious problem since it suggests the dislike is not just coming from stereotyping, but also because you don’t get along (It’s no surprise that Le Pen’s seat is next to a big Arab ghetto).

    Somewhat off topic, there’s some rather recent research looking at how quickly you lose these attitudes with individuals (doing similar sorts of experiments to what you saw in Andrew Leigh’s IAT task if you did it), and I believe what it shows you is that once you see a person once or twice, you lose the unconscious negative stereotypes that cause the implicit differences in your reactions. So it looks like even small amounts of familiarity (just looking at someone a few times) trumps behavior caused by implicit stereotypes, and least with individuals.


  2. Conrad – Though the problem with the implicit association test is that it is an experimental isolation of ethnicity, when in the real world ethnicity is only one piece of information that we take in about a person. Since there is little evidence that ideological racism is widespread, the kind of research you mention is exactly as we would expect.


  3. I was wondering whether you could provide me with an e-mail address. I am writing from a British-based political website and wish to send you some information I think you may be interested in.

    Many thanks,

    Esme Knight


  4. I agree, I think attitudes are impacted by interaction with individuals from the ethnic group under question. I found that with my research in Cobram. I heard stereotypical and racist comments about Iraqis in general, and then the same person would recount evidence of closer social relationship experiences with particular Iraqi individuals.


  5. I think tolerance is improved by having a wider range of contacts. In the country you go to school with the doctor’s kids ( unless they are sent off to a private school, in which case the doctor’s kids miss out, they really don’t know what they missed and really aren’t in a position to comment) and the kids of the local drunk. You don’t meet many Lebanese in country towns.

    I think the issue is important, private schools segregate the student population, in my view it is a real problem and going forward we are going to suffer for it.

    When it comes to Aboriginal people, yes personal experience matters. My own view is their problem is a lack of pride in themselves and I think the best thing that has happened in the last ten years (2000 I think) was Cathy Freeman running around the oval with the Aboriginal flag after she won gold, she showed pride in what she was. The apology was also a great thing, the political class finally showed respect for what they are.

    Personal experience, sit down money has done a lot of damage, that has nothing to do with education, but I bet you got told in no uncertain terms by people who had seen the resultant problems first hand.


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