6.3 Ethnic Diversity, Norms and Networks

Project info

The project aims to identify under which conditions second generation youth publicly support conservative ethnic-religious group norms, even when they reject such norms privately and identify more with progressive-secular Dutch norms; how such unpopular norms can become collectively self-reinforcing; and how social networks and interventions implemented in schools can mitigate this self-reinforcing process and empower minority youth.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Work package
  • Inclusion
Sustainability threat
  • Feedback Cycles
  • Dealing with diversity
Theoretical background
Many immigrant groups that have settled in Western European societies in the past decades originate from conservative-religious societies (e.g., Turkey, Morocco). The children from these groups - the so-called second generation - grow up in two worlds. On the one hand, they acquire conservative-religious norms and opinions (e.g., traditional gender roles, religious rituals, disapproval of homosexuality, dating, and cross-gender friendships) from their parents. On the other hand, they are exposed to more progressive-secular views of the majority population. Consequently, the second generation navigates in different cultural contexts and networks, each with different sets of expectations and loyalties. However, little is known about what kind of strategies the second generation uses to respond to these challenging conditions. This project studies this topic among youth in schools. It argues that we get a better understanding of their strategies, by considering that people’s private opinions, identities and loyalties may sometimes deviate from their public behavior. In particular, the project is interested in the behavior of second generation members - individually and as a group - who privately identify with the mainstream Dutch culture, opinions and norms. One strategy is to publicly support the ethnic group norms, even when these are rejected privately. For example, when a second-generation Turkish girl privately rejects the conservative-religious norms and opinions of her parents, such as veiling, she may nevertheless veil in public if she believes that the majority of her social network supports this conservative norm. Under conditions of pluralistic ignorance, this will happen even when the majority of her network actually rejects this norm in private, too. Her behavior signals that she is loyal to the religious-ethnic group and a sincere believer. Such public support for the conservative-religious norm can then act as further social proof for her network (e.g., friends and peers), i.e., they may erroneously interpret her behavior as support for this norm. Members may even sanction norm-deviance - even if they privately reject the norm (Willer, Kuwabara, & Macy, 2009). Such unpopular norms can therefore be self-reinforcing and create negative feedback cycles. The current project examines under which conditions this strategy is adopted, and when second generation members are more susceptible to publicly express private support of more progressive-secular Dutch opinions and identity. In particular, it will examine the role of social network structures and processes - such as ethnic segregation (Smith et al. 2014) and peer influence (Stark 2015). For example, second generation youth who not only have co-ethnic friends but are also befriended with Dutch peers (‘linking pins’), may be more inclined to express their private views in public, potentially creating a cascade of norm-change among their co-ethnic peers. In addition, this project will develop and test theoretically-informed interventions that mitigate these negative feedback cycles.
Research design
A multi-method research design will be used. Social networks will be analyzed, taking advantage of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in 4 European Countries (CILS4EU, see http://www.cils4.eu/), which contains unique longitudinal panel information on more than 18,000 ethnic majority and minority youth in Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and England. In each country, more than 100 schools participated. The CILS4EU survey includes information on various opinions, public behavior, and social network data (using sociometric measures collected in class rooms). Second, there are opportunities to collect new data, such as survey experiments (vignette studies). In collaboration with teachers and students, an intervention will be developed. Making use of mobile surveys, experience sampling, and innovative smartphone apps to collect behavioral network data, the project will evaluate the effect of the intervention.


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