Studying diversity

Early in her career, Eliana La Ferrara looked at American municipalities with the aim of understanding societal dynamics when there was more diversity.

“I showed that increased ethnic diversity is associated with less participation in groups, less trust,” she says. “If municipalities are more diverse, you see lower participation rates.” Her early work on ethnic diversity, social participation and trust became her most cited to date. When La Ferrara found an overall negative association to diversity, she became more interested in how to leverage the positive effects, even when there are negative stereotypes present. “If you not only diversify but also help people who start off from different conditions to get to know each other better, then the negative effects might not necessarily materialize,” says La Ferrara.

This was followed by a study that took place at South African colleges, where black and white first-year students were assigned shared rooms. La Ferrara and her colleagues used an IAT test and at the beginning of the academic year, the test showed that most of the students had negative prejudices against the other group. At the end of the year, the bias of students that had been paired with someone from the other group had decreased dramatically.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research

Tags:  diversity, South Africa, Discrimination, stereotypes

Professor of Economics, Bocconi University and CEPR Research Fellow

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