Does buying a vacation home in Mauritius really expose your kids to other cultures?

I just saw the end of a House Hunters International episode on HGTV and heard a justification for buying in a more tropical location that is often used on the show: it is good to expose kids to other cultures. On one hand, there may be some truth to this: the kids may indeed meet people very different from themselves as well as see other social and cultural practices. This exposure might be more significant if the family is living in the the new location full-time, as was the case in this episode as the father had a new job, versus flying to the location a few times a year for vacation.

However, there are some factors that are working against this significant exposure:

1. The family typically buys in a Western-style housing complex. This suggests they may be living more near other internationals or at least near more people with money.

2. The families typically are people of means, those who can afford to purchase a second home or have the kind of jobs that transfer them to foreign locales. This status would particularly stand out in developing countries.

3. At least on the show (which is not a good depiction of reality), the families are not typically shown doing “normal” things in the new society in which they live. No trips to the grocery store or market, hanging out in local eating establishments, or participating in social life with people who look different than themselves. Instead, we typically see shots of them on the beach or at the pool or enjoying their home.

In the end, I’m skeptical about the level of exposure to other cultures. This sounds like wealthier Westerners wanting some diversity on their terms and social standing.

Reducing time zones in Indonesia to improve business opportunities and unite ethnic groups

Indonesia is currently discussing reducing the country’s time zones from three to one:

The government has been promoting since May a plan that aims to put all parts of the sprawling archipelago nation into the same time zone as many other Asian countries. Under the plan, all of Indonesia—which stretches 6,400 kilometers between India and Australia—would be eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, meaning the country’s capital city would shift one hour ahead of its current time.

The government says the move is expected to boost business transactions between Indonesia and the regional financial hubs such as Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Airlines could also profit through simpler flight schedules, increasing their productivity, it says…

While the time-zone idea isn’t seen as critical by many investors, it is popular among some who would find it easier to do business in the country. Russia in March reduced its time zones to nine from 11, while Brazil is considering cutting to one from three.

And it isn’t only monetary gains that Jakarta has in mind by abolishing the clock divisions—it also hopes to foster closer ties among the country’s more than 1,128 ethnic groups. With the country split into three zones, the thinking goes, it’s easier for groups to view themselves as part of different regions than as Indonesians first…

The business argument makes more sense to me. (Still: in an era of fast globalization, does a one or two hour time difference really matter?) However, I’m skeptical of the ethnic/cultural argument. Being on the same time zone really brings people together in a meaningful way? Perhaps fixing the time zones is an easier “fix” than other possible measures…

I remember going through a time zone while living in northern Indiana. At the time, our part of the state was on Eastern time half of the year and on Central time the other half of the year. This was somewhat confusing but I think the bigger issue was that a good portion of the northwestern part of the state wanted to be on the same time zone as Chicago for business purposes. But, I don’t recall any debate over whether these people in a different time zone were any less Hoosiers for this choice. (However, I could imagine something similar goes on in Indiana as it does in Illinois: people near Chicago think that is where all the action is…and isn’t downstate all about corn and farming?)

Another note: the 24 time zones match up with the rotation of the earth. So what does it mean when we put multiple time zones together for political, business, and cultural purposes? Is this a prime example of humanity running roughshod over nature?

Lorton, Virginia illustrates the growing diversity across the US

The Washington Post takes a closer look at Lorton, Virginia, recently named as one of the most diverse communities in the United States, and discusses how Lorton illustrates broader trends:

Non-whites no longer stick out in a crowd. Lorton is one of the most diverse places in the entire country, according to a new study of census data by two sociologists from Pennsylvania State University. The 19,000 residents are roughly a third white and a third black, and there are significant numbers of Asians, Hispanics and multiracial residents…

What’s happened in Lorton is typical of a demographic sea change that is transforming the Washington area and much of the country. Non-Hispanic whites are a minority in a growing number of metropolitan areas, including Washington. Predominantly white neighborhoods are a relic of the past. New developments that appeal to young families are among the most diverse, drawing Hispanics and Asians who, on average, are much younger than the whites.

Although metropolitan areas are the most diverse, small towns and the countryside are also attracting more minorities. The Penn State researchers found that whites are the predominant group in barely one-third of all places of 1,000 residents or more, compared with two-thirds in 1980.

“Racial and ethnic diversity is no longer a vicarious experience for Americans,” said Barrett A. Lee, one of the study’s authors. “It used to be something that was recognized and debated at the national level. But now even residents of small towns and rural areas are coming face to face with people of different races or ethnicity in their daily lives, not just on the evening news.”

This is part of everyday life in many communities across the United States.

Myron Orfield on how to help keep the suburbs, like those of Chicago, diverse

Myron Orfield is known for his efforts to argue for more comprehensive metropolitan cooperation and planning. In this piece at Atlantic Cities, Orfield explains how to help the suburbs remain diverse:

Yet, while integrated suburbs represent great hope, they face serious challenges to their prosperity and stability. In America, integrated communities have a hard time staying integrated for extended periods. Neighborhoods that were more than 23 percent non-white in 1980 were more likely to become predominately non-white (more than 60 percent non-white) during the next 25 years than to remain integrated. Illegal discrimination — in the form of steering by real estate agents, mortgage lending and insurance discrimination, subsidized housing placement, and racial gerrymandering of school attendance boundaries — is causing rapid racial change and economic decline…

By 2010, 17 percent of suburbanites lived in predominantly non-white suburbs, communities that were once integrated but are now more troubled than their central cities, with fewer prospects for renewal. Tipping or resegregation (moving from a once all-white or stably integrated neighborhood to an all non-white neighborhood), while common, is not inevitable. Stable integration is possible. However, it does not happen by accident. It is the product of clear race-conscious strategies, hard work, and political collaboration among local governments.

Critical to stabilizing these suburbs are the following strategies:

  • Creation of local stable integration plans with fair housing ordinances, incentives for pro-integrative home loans, cooperative efforts with local school districts, and financial support of pro-integrative community-based organizations.
  • Greater enforcement of existing civil rights laws including the Fair Housing Act, especially the sections related to racial steering, mortgage lending discrimination and location of publicly subsidized affordable housing.
  • Adoption of regional strategies to limit exclusionary zoning and require affluent suburbs to accommodate their fair share of affordable housing.
  • Adoption of metropolitan-scale strategies to promote more integrated schools.

This tipping point phenomenon goes back to the research of Thomas Schelling who identified points where residents will start leaving a neighborhood with an influx of certain new residents. Research suggests that whites start leaving more diverse neighborhoods when the neighborhood becomes roughly 10-20% non-white.

It’s too bad Orfield doesn’t go further with this and talk about suburbs where this has successfully taken place. In his book American Metropolitics, Orfield talks primarily about inner-ring suburbs that now have more diverse populations. The Chicago metropolitan region maps included in this post are fascinating: between 2000 and 2010, a number of suburbs became more diverse. I’ve included the 2010 map from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity below:

Some quick observations:

1. The diverse suburbs have moved far beyond just the inner-ring suburbs.

2. The south and west suburbs are most diverse. There are a number of African-American suburbs just south of Chicago and the diverse population west of Chicago is primarily Latino with growing numbers of Asians.

3. The wealthier North Shore suburbs are the largest pocket of predominantly white suburbs though there are a number of these white suburbs sprinkled throughout the region. It is interesting to watch how these suburbs adapt to the growing diversity around them.

4. The most diverse suburbs appear to be ones with cheaper housing and more manufacturing and service jobs. There are some wealthier more diverse suburbs such as Oak Brook but I suspect the diversity in these suburbs is not also class diversity.

So Orfield’s four recommendations would help preserve this map and even increase diversity? Without much metropolitan cooperation, the Chicago suburbs have become more diverse. Perhaps Orfield might argue the suburbs would be even more diverse if metropolitan efforts had been undertaken. However, these maps obscure several important features such as social class and availability of nearby jobs.

Religious change in America between 2000 and 2010

Results from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census show religious changes in America between 2000 and 2010:

The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released May 1 on the Association of Religion Data Archives, found that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gained the most regular members in the last 10 years, growing by nearly 2 million to a total of 6.14 million adherents in 13,600 congregations…

  • Taken together, nondenominational and independent churches may now be considered the third largest religious group in the country, with 12.2 million adherents in 35,500 congregations. Only the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are larger.
  • The U.S. was home to 2,106 mosques nationwide in 2010. The figure includes 166 mosques in Texas, 118 in Florida and 50 Muslim houses of worship in North Carolina…

Mainline Protestant churches lost an average of 12.8 percent of adherents in the first decade of the 21st century; 5 percent fewer active members were found in Catholic churches.

There is an explanation for this growing diversity toward the end of the article: the religious economy approach. This school of thought in the sociology of religion suggests that religious groups in the United States have to compete for adherents, sharpening the appeal and “marketing” of some of these groups. This takes place because of the separation of church of state which is a contrast to state churches in Europe that tend to stifle religious competition.

Some of these changes are also interesting at the local level. For example, Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in Illinois and there are now more Muslims in the Chicago area than Methodists. [The actual numbers for this second fact are not in this online story but were in the print version of the newspaper.]

Sociology article helps lead to getting diversity information on NYC financial firms?

Earlier this week, two major financial firms said they would release data on the gender and race of their employees:

There is no requirement that Corporate America disclose its diversity data, but Monday two major companies – Goldman Sachs and MetLife — announced they’d be giving up the long-held secret…

The information is available and has been since 1964, because under the Civil Rights Act of that year, companies with 100 workers or more have had to report the data on race and gender annually to the U.S. Department of Labor. The problem has been, they were not under any requirement to release that data to the public, or even to local governments such as New York…

And there’s a lot of inequality, especially in the higher ranks at companies where the lack of diversity is greatest.

When I saw this, I was disappointed we didn’t get any information willing these companies were to start releasing this data or whether they were feeling enough public or government pressure. And then the article had a quote from the author of a recent sociology article on the topic that was published in a top journal and I wondered if this article made any difference…

Liu’s push for disclosure is a good first step on the road to more diversity, said Emilio J. Castilla, professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of  an article titled “Bringing Managers Back In: Managerial Influences on Workplace Inequality,” published in the American Sociological Review late last year.

“But this might not be enough,” he stressed. “They’re increasing transparency, showing some percentages, but I’d think about accountability. Are there organizational procedures in place to make sure these efforts result in the outcomes they want?”

I’m probably too hopeful here that an article in a sociology journal was influential but it couldn’t hurt…right?

Where do Washington D.C. metro area residents find diversity?

This could be an interesting research question as put by the Washington Post: “where do you experience diversity?” The question comes amidst recent changes in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area:

We all know how diverse our region is; the latest census shows that Washington is one of the eight major metropolitan areas that have become majority minority in the past decade.

But how do those statistics translate into actual diversity? Where are the places in our region where people of all races, creeds, colors and nationalities mix most freely? Where are the markets, playing fields, dog parks, theaters, shopping malls that attract the most diverse crowds? And what does diversity even mean to each of us?

And there is even a reference to Elijah Anderson’s recent concept of the “cosmopolitan canopy,” places where people of different races and social classes mingle.

Several thoughts come to mind:

1. What exactly do they mean when they ask about people “mix[ing] most freely”? Does this mean different people are simply in the same place, like a baseball stadium or a shopping mall, or they are actually interacting?

2. Several studies from earlier this year looked at segregation within American cities. In one study, Washington D.C. is the 20th most segregated city in the country. The dissimilarity score of 61.0 roughly means that 61% of the population would have to move for there to be an equal distribution of blacks and whites in the region. While there are cities that certainly have worse scores (Chicago, New York City, and Milwaukee are the top three), this isn’t necessarily good. The region may be majority-minority but that doesn’t mean that people live near each other.

2a. Here are some of the other US cities that became majority-minority by 2010: “Along with Washington, the regions surrounding New York, San Diego, Las Vegas and Memphis have become majority-minority since 2000. Non-Hispanic whites are a minority in 22 of the country’s 100-biggest urban areas.”

3. I wonder if this is kind of a silly question because it doesn’t get at the real issue: residential segregation. It is better to have people of different backgrounds mixing in public or private spaces than to not have this happen. But the real issue is that people of different races tend not to live near each other in the United States. When presented with the option of living with other races within the same neighborhood, whites opt out more often than not.

4. What will the newspaper do with this data regarding where people find diversity? Since it won’t be a representative sample (as a voluntary, online poll), I suspect they will profile some of these places to try to understand why they attract different groups of people.

An emerging portrait of emerging adults in the news, part 2

In recent weeks, a number of studies have been reported on that discuss the beliefs and behaviors of the younger generation, those who are now between high school and age 30 (an age group that could also be labeled “emerging adults”). In a three-part series, I want to highlight three of these studies because they not only suggest what this group is doing but also hints at the consequences. (Find part one here.)

In Sunday’s edition of the Chicago Tribune, there was a story citing research that shows emerging adults are more tolerant than previous generations on issues like intermarriage, gay marriage, other races, and immigration. Yet, at the same time, there is also research suggesting levels of empathy among college students are down about 40% compared to the 1970s:

“Millennials, A Portrait of Generation Next,” an extensive study of teens and 20-somethings released earlier this year, showed that members of the Millennial Generation, generally born between 1981 and 2000, are “more racially tolerant than their elders.”

More than two decades of Pew Research surveys confirm that assessment.

“In their views about interracial dating, for example, Millennials are the most open to change of any generation,” the report states.

The study goes on to report that nearly 6 in 10 Millennials say immigrants strengthen the country, compared with 43 percent of adults ages 30 and older…

The problem is that tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean understanding, researchers say. Adults working with teens say they see an unsettling strain of desensitivity among young people.

In May, University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research issued a report on an analysis of 72 studies on the empathy of nearly 14,000 college students between 1979 and 2009. The result: Today’s college students are about 40 percent lower in empathy than students two or three decades earlier.

The researchers suggested that disheartening trend may have to do with numbness created by violent video games, an abundance of online friends and an intensely competitive emphasis on success, among other factors.

This is a very interesting conclusion: the younger generation is more tolerant but less understanding and empathetic. So what exactly does this tolerance look like? The lack of empathy, in particular, is interesting as it is another step beyond tolerance. Empathy is the ability to understand and take on the feelings and perspectives of others. Is tolerance the end goal or is there more that we should be striving for as a society?

This conundrum reminds me of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the current topic of our Sunday School class. In verse after verse, Jesus suggests that Christians aren’t just supposed to put up with people: “loving your neighbor” means taking an extra step toward people, bringing reconciliation, peace, and blessings to other rather than just letting them be or letting them pursue their rights in their own space. Loving people means putting them above yourself, something beyond both tolerance and empathy.

One outcome suggested by this story is a meanness or harshness among high schools. Teenagers understand about respecting difference but this doesn’t translate as well into personal interactions where being mean is seen as being cool.

Another possible outcome is living alone, keeping people at a distance. I will consider this in part three of this series.

The changing demographics of American kindergarten students

Many researchers have noted the existing demographic transition in America away from a large majority of whites to a more diverse population. USA Today has some statistics about what this looks like at the level of kindergarten classes:

•About 25% of 5-year-olds are Hispanic, a big jump from 19% in 2000. Hispanics of that age outnumber blacks almost 2 to 1.

•The percentage of white 5-year-olds fell from 59% in 2000 to about 53% today and the share of blacks from 15% to 13%.

“This is not just a big-city phenomenon,” Johnson says. “The percentage of minority children is growing faster in the suburbs and in rural areas.”

Measuring this at the level of kindergarten classes might be a decent proxy for measuring the next generation.

I wonder how this will impact the image of suburbs which have traditionally been thought of as lily-white places. The suburbs of the 2050s will look quite different in population than the suburbs of the 1950s, post-World War II era.

Quick Review: Gran Torino

Gran Torino is a film containing a number of common archetypes: the grumpy old man who finds hope, the coming-of-age teenager, the well-kept old car that symbolizes hope, the decent people versus the gangs, and the grieving and broken person who finds redemption in self-sacrifice. I think the movie pulls the pieces together successfully.

Clint Eastwood plays a Korean war vet (Walt Kowalski) who is the last white resident in a run-down Detroit neighborhood that is now home to many Hmong immigrants. The movie opens with the funeral of Kowalski’s wife and Eastwood is seemingly mad at the whole world early in the film. But, Kowalski finds meaning by the end.

Some quick thoughts:

1. Kowalski is an ancient relic in modern Detroit. At one point, his elderly Hmong neighbor asks him why as a white person he is still living in this neighborhood in Detroit. He used to work in an auto factory and believes in hard work and (excessive) insults to interact with other men.

2. The movie is named after a car but it is mainly a plot device. The real center of the movie is the relationships that Walt forms with his neighbors.

3. There is a lot of commentary on today’s world built into this movie.

a. Diversity and immigration are key themes. Even with seemingly important outward differences, Walt, despite his politically incorrect language, is able to find common ground with his new neighbors.

b. The younger generation vs. the older generation. Walt may look old and act in confounding ways but he knows what true virtue is. The two main Hmong teenagers in the film come across as kind and industrious even as the Hmong gang members (and gang members of other backgrounds) are portrayed as losers. Walt’s kids and grandkids are made out to be rather horrible. One female teenage grandchild is particularly singled out as she can only think of what she might get when Walt dies. The young Catholic priest is virtuous but ultimately naive about matters of life and death.

This movie attempts to do a lot in 116 minutes but is ultimately likable.

(The film was generally well-received by critics: on RottenTomatoes, 210 reviews with 168 fresh/80%.)