Diversity on the decline in social circles of immigrant youth

New research shows social circles of visible minority youth grow less diverse over time. Sean Lauer of the UBC Department of Sociology and Miu Chung Yan of the UBC School of Social Work published their findings on the social circles of minority youth in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal.

The study analyzed data from second-generation immigrant youth under the age of 24, aiming to discover trends in the ethnic composition of their social circles over time.

Results show that the social circles of visible minority youth, particularly those of Chinese or South Asian descent, are more ‘co-ethnic’ with their friends of the same ethnicity. Their social circles grow even more co-ethnic over time. These results contrast with findings from second-generation immigrants of European descent, who reported their social circles becoming more ‘cross-ethnic’ over time, with friends coming from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Why are friendships becoming more co-ethnic?

Due to the informal and unstructured nature of friendships, any number of factors could affect social circles. Lauer offers several factors that promote co-ethnic social circles. These factors include not only the values and prejudices of Canadians in their approaches to newcomers but also the characteristics of co-ethnic communities themselves. He posits that subtle prejudices of exclusion and inclusion from wider society may discourage diverse friendships and encourage more contact with people from their co-ethnic community. The co-ethnic communities might exacerbate this by offering resources and support, encouraging people to increasingly turn toward their co-ethnic communities.

Sean Lauer. | Photo courtesy of UBC

“If you’re in a community that’s rich in resources and if you’re feeling a bit excluded from the mainstream and you have a community that has these valuable resources that can help you search for work, you’d turn to your community more, and become more embedded in your community,” says Lauer.

This study was borne out of another project interviewing immigrant youth about their transition from education to employment. Lauer noted that Chinese, Filipino, and other South Asian youth were aware of and concerned that their social circles were becoming more co-ethnic. Youth graduating high school and university use a variety of strategies to find work. One of the most effective channels of finding employment is through friends and connections. Youth often find that their co-ethnic communities offer more opportunities for work. As friendships are vital sources of opportunities, differing levels of diversity could result in different opportunities. Thus, Professor Lauer encourages consideration of the real implications of our social circles and their compositions.

Besides the instrumental value of friendships in finding opportunities, Lauer emphasizes how diverse groups of friends allow for deeper empathy towards different communities.

“There is real value in having a diverse group of friends as an end itself,” he says. “When we have friends who are different from us, it opens up new possibilities and understandings of the world, allowing for deeper empathy and understanding for differences.”

What can be done?

Lauer invites everyone to reach out and make others feel welcome, and to move past any prejudices to make new friends. He also emphasizes the importance of diversity in places where people make friends such as work, schools, and especially community organizations. Community organizations encourage regular interaction between people of different ethnicities, ages, and cultures. Participating in shared activities like soccer leagues, drop-in programs, and cooking classes is one of the best ways to make a diverse group of friends.

“I encourage everyone to seek out places that lend themselves to the formation of diverse friendships and get involved,” says Lauer.

For more information, please visit www.news.ubc.ca/2020/06/26/social-circles-of-visible-minority-youth-become-less-diverse-as-they-get-older