The Disadvantages of Cultural Diversity

by Andrew Button
Social exclusion can sometimes occur as an unintended consequence of cultural diversity.

Social exclusion can sometimes occur as an unintended consequence of cultural diversity.

In many ways, diversity is a major advantage to an industrialized society. Diversity provides labor resources and cultural vitality to first world countries that would otherwise be severely impacted by aging populations. However, this does not mean that diversity comes without difficulties. Among the most noticeable disadvantages of cultural diversity include language barriers, social tension, and civic disengagement. It should be noted that these are not reasons to avoid diversity, but rather, factors to keep in mind as society heads toward a more diverse future.

Language Barriers

Some countries require immigrants to learn the native language.

One of the main disadvantages of cultural diversity is its tendency to create language barriers. Social segregation often occurs when speakers of two mutually unintelligible languages live side by side. Language barriers are generally temporary in nature (most immigrants eventually learn the language of the country they move to), but the resultant segregation can endure, as exemplified in segregated neighborhoods and ethnic ghettos. As a result of this phenomenon, many governments around the world now require that prospective immigrants learn their country's official language.

Social Tension

Demonstrators protest over a ban on women covering their faces in France.

Social tension can occur as a result of cultural and linguistic differences. In Europe, for instance, tension between the Muslim minority and the largely secular majority is frequently attributed to the incommensurability of Islamic and Secular values. The tensions caused by culture are thought to be exacerbated by economic differences, as European Muslim populations are frequently disadvantaged in employment due to a lack of educational opportunities. According to Harvard professor Robert B. Putnam, these kinds of tensions often result in populations "hunkering down" in their homes instead of interacting with their neighbors.

Civic Disengagement

A non-profit health clinic for the poor.

Civic disengagement is not a consequence one would expect from social diversity. However, studies have shown that civic disengagement is more likely to occur in diverse communities than in relatively homogeneous communities. According to an aggregate study by Matthew Kahn and Dora Costa, when cultural diversity is combined with income inequality, members of all cultural and income groups are less likely to volunteer or become politically involved. This effect is most likely to be observed when an immigrants are systematically placed at an economic disadvantage, whether due to immigration policy or workplace discrimination.

Workplace Issues

Workers in a diverse workplace may feel discriminated against.

Occasionally, workplace issues can arise from cultural diversity. White employees sometimes feel institutionally discriminated against in diverse workplaces, perceiving diversity instruments (e.g., the disparate impact test) to be a form of reverse discrimination. Conversely, African-American employees often feel socially discriminated against in diverse workplaces, especially when the workplace has an all-white management team. According to one study, African American employees are 2.5 times as likely to resign from a job at a diverse workplace than a white employee is, while a female employee is twice as likely to leave a diverse workplace than a male employee is. These numbers add some statistical weight to reports of discrimination and exclusion directed toward minority and female employees at diverse workplaces.

About the Author

Based in St. John's, Canada, Andrew Button has been writing since 2008, covering politics, business and finance. He has contributed to newspapers and online magazines, including "The Evening Telegram" and cbc.ca. Button is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Memorial University in St. John's.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images