Racially diverse neighborhoods in various regions are linked to lower crime rates

In new research, Young-An Kim and James C. Wo examine the implications of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in American communities on crime. Using evidence from Southern California, they tested the effects of racial diversity on neighborhood crime rates, finding that there was less violent and property crime in the most neighborhoods. diverse, and particularly those located in more diverse areas. They attribute this to the greater opportunities created by diverse communities to overcome prejudice and build social bonds and trust between different groups.

Racial and ethnic diversity in the United States has steadily increased over the past few decades. While most people would say this is a beneficial trend because it promotes inclusion and tolerance, others argue that racial diversity could have unintended and harmful consequences. There is an ongoing debate about whether racial diversity leads to neighborhood crime problems or, contrary to some theoretical perspectives, means greater social cohesion, and therefore less crime.

Many studies to have found that racial diversity is associated with more neighborhood crime. The main argument (rooted in social disorganization theory) is that racially diverse contexts undermine social cohesion among neighborhood residents. Specifically, a more racially diverse population is thought to impede the development of social bonds and cohesion among residents, and thus weaken the ability of residents themselves to monitor and regulate criminal behavior – social control informal.

On the other hand, there is an alternative proposition that suggests that racial diversity can strengthen social cohesion and bonds among residents if frequent opportunities for social interactions are provided. Drawing on contact theory (rooted in social psychology), the idea is that casual contact between residents in diverse settings can reduce biases against those who are perceived as “others” and create opportunities for them to develop mutual trust based on knowledge. Specifically, regular face-to-face interactions between different racial groups can help reduce prejudice about others, which in turn facilitates social connections, trust, and cohesion among residents across group boundaries. Therefore, more diverse communities can mean lower levels of neighborhood crime.

How diversity could affect crime levels

Although the two perspectives on racial diversity and crime may seem contradictory, we argue that they may be theoretically compatible. At lower levels, racial diversity may have a crime-promoting effect, as social cohesion between residents of different racial groups is likely low, but diversity may also promote tolerance and trust between groups and reduce prejudice based on the group, if there are enough opportunities. for frequent interpersonal contact with other groups. In other words, social contact between groups can reduce prejudice between different groups, if there is sufficiently frequent contact between racially different people.

Another important factor to consider is scale. Specifically, when looking at small areas, compared to a larger region, residents may have a greater chance of social interactions with others, which may reduce prejudice based on racial group and thus build connections. social and trust with different racial groups. Such an environment can promote social cohesion among residents and thus effective informal social control. For example, a resident may have more interpersonal or casual interactions and feel greater social cohesion with another resident living next door or a few doors down the street than with others residing a few miles away. Additionally, the consequences of crime should be different for a neighborhood surrounded by larger racially similar areas than for those surrounded by larger racially diverse areas.

picture by Derek Liang to Unsplash

In new research, we tested some of these propositions about the effects of racial diversity on neighborhood crime rates. As shown in Figure 1, using a sample of blocks located in the Southern California region, we found that racial diversity within blocks (a relatively small-sized neighborhood unit) had a criminality for violent and property crimes. In contrast, our results suggest that racial diversity in surrounding ¼-mile areas of blocks tends to increase crime, but this effect becomes a reduction in crime in neighborhoods with even greater racial diversity.

Figure 1 – Racial ethnic diversity and gang attacks

This result implies that racial diversity in larger areas exhibits primarily a crime-generating effect, as social cohesion and informal social control between residents of different racial groups is likely reduced. However, as racial diversity increases even more, there may be a sufficiently large amount of each racial group, which provides more opportunities to develop interpersonal contact, social bonds and cohesion with each other and therefore a reduction in crime. Yet such a portion of the crime reduction trend seems relatively small in magnitude, in general.

Figure 2 – Racial Diversity and Predicted Crime in Blocks and ¼ Mile Neighborhoods

Additionally, the crime reduction effect of racial diversity in the block is more pronounced when there is high diversity in the surrounding area. Specifically, racially similar blocks surrounded by areas of high diversity (known as “racial islands”) are most at risk of crime. Interestingly, racially diverse areas in very surrounding areas that are highly diverse generally have the lowest crime risk.

The crime-reducing effect of racial diversity in the block is particularly remarkable when compared to the crime-inducing effect in the surrounding area. This suggests that racial diversity may have different consequences for crime when looking at different spatial scales. Additionally, it should be emphasized that a diverse block surrounded by other diverse areas has the lowest crime risk, suggesting that racial diversity has a protective effect, shielding the community from crime and disorder. Future work on racial diversity and neighborhood crime should incorporate factors such as housing policies, racial segregation, and gentrification, to name a few.

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Note: This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of the USAPP – American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.

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About the Authors

Young-An Kim – Florida State University
Young-An Kim is an assistant professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University. His research interests cover a variety of areas such as neighborhoods and crime, criminology of place, immigration and crime, and geospatial analysis. Besides criminology, he is interested in the sociology of health, urban sociology and quantitative research methods.

James C. WoUniversity of Iowa
James C. Wo is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Iowa and a research fellow at the Center for Public Policy at the University of Iowa. His research interests include neighborhoods and crime, local institutions and organizations, land use, and quantitative research methods.

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