Health, Multiculturalism and Social Integration

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Na, Ling
Hample, Dale
This project was inspired by Durkheim's (1897, 1951) pioneering theory of social integration and its health benefits, as well as relatively more contemporary work on contact hypothesis by Allport (1951) and intercultural communication theory by Kim (2001). Durkheim proposed that the underlying cause of suicide was lack of social integration. More recent research also suggested that social integration had health benefits, such as reduced mortality and morbidity, better mental health and wellbeing. What is often missing from this picture is the role of network homophily and possible psychological pathways in the relationship between social integration and health. This study explored social integration, health outcomes, and psychological wellbeing of different groups in Canada using the Canadian General Social Survey 2008, tested the potential predictors of ethnic homophily with multilevel modeling and regression analysis based on Allport's contact hypothesis, examined how ethnic homophily and racial diversity in the neighborhood affected individuals psychologically, and how social integration affected health outcomes (physical health, mental health, and psychological wellbeing) via psychological pathways (personal control, sense of belonging and generalized trust) for each group of Canadians using structural equation modeling. The study found that visible minority immigrants were least socially integrated, and their health outcomes remained at a comparable level as the native-born whites. The Aboriginal Peoples reported poorest physical health, mental health, and psychological wellbeing and lowest level of income and education achievement. They were however integrated at a comparable level as the native-born Whites. Compared to visible minorities, whether they were immigrants or not, Aboriginal Peoples had more ethnically and linguistically homophilous social networks. Living in diverse neighborhoods decreased the sense of belonging felt by the native-born Whites, whereas having less homophilous networks increased the generalized trust of white immigrant and increased the sense of belonging felt by visible minority immigrants. The study also showed social integration had positive impacts on health outcomes across five groups, even though not all effects were significant. When a total effect of a social integration variable on a health outcome variable was significant, it was very likely to be mediated by a psychological pathway. Limitations of the study were discussed as well as its theoretical and policy implications.