The more culturally diverse our neighbourhoods are, the happier we are about it – up to a certain point, says Professor Colleen Ward, Director of Victoria University of Wellington’s Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research. The Royal Society of New Zealand Fellow explains the tipping point of immigration acceptance, what makes kiwis tend to embrace diversity, and why it is a good thing that a friend of hers has marmalade on chapatis for breakfast.
Are New Zealanders welcoming towards immigrants, compared to the rest of the world?
New Zealanders actually have very good attitudes to multiculturalism, though there is always room for improvement. Our research has shown that 89 percent of New Zealanders agree that it is a good thing for a country to be made up of many different cultures, attitudes and identities. That’s a higher percentage of people than in Australia or any of the European Union countries. I’m really proud of New Zealanders’ attitudes to diversity.
Eighty-four percent will also say it’s a good thing for immigrants to retain their own culture while adopting New Zealand culture. But while people might think diversity is good in general, they don’t always want to accommodate it. For example they might not want a mosque in their neighbourhood, or they might see how diversity leads to innovation and creativity but not want to work with someone who speaks English with an unfamiliar accent. There is also substantial research in New Zealand showing discrimination against New Zealand Asian employees compared to New Zealand Pakeha employees.
How can we help immigrants feel at home?
We find that in countries with multicultural policies new immigrants feel less discriminated against. Contact between cultures under favourable conditions also tends to improve intergroup perceptions. At the personal level, it’s important to promote more intergroup contact. At the national level, multicultural policies are important. At the institutional or organizational level it is important to have programmes that manage cultural diversity effectively, both internally and in interaction with external stakeholders. To these ends, our Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research has developed a range of intercultural training programmes, both general programmes and programmes for specific clients, such as the New Zealand police.
But one of the most important things that New Zealand permits immigrants to do is to keep their own culture as well as becoming kiwis. This is a big key to success – immigrants who can do this have higher levels of life satisfaction and better social functioning. It’s generally agreed that having two cultures has benefits, but we’ve actually found a positive relationship between ethnic and national identities. So the more Samoan a person feels, the more of a New Zealander they feel too.
Recently we’ve been doing some, as yet unpublished, work on the ways people bring these cultural identities together. One way is for people to blend them, almost creating a third cultural identity, for example mixing up Indianness and New Zealandness. I have a friend who eats marmalade on chapatis for breakfast which is a good example of that. The other way is alternating identities, “I’m sometimes Indian and other times kiwi.” But in contrast to blending identities, alternating tends to be associated with feelings of conflict, and less positive outcomes. These are new ideas for psychologists who study acculturation.
We started this research with young Muslims in New Zealand and have now looked at Chinese, Greeks, Indians, Filipinos, and Tongans. We also have an international collaborator who has confirmed the findings by looking at Hindus and Muslims in Mauritius.
Is that true everywhere?
No, what I’d really like to emphasise here is that the context of this research was in two places – New Zealand and Mauritius – that are both very multicultural and try to accommodate diversity. We do have a doctoral student who has done this research with Arabs not only in New Zealand but also in Israel and the model is holding up reasonably well, although I was sceptical that it would.
We want to move this research into different cultures and contexts, because the international community differs a lot in how much integration is promoted. In a lot of Western Europe immigrants are forced to choose which identity they have. In Germany, for example, which is very assimilationist, there is a negative relationship between cultural identities – the more Turkish I am, the less German I am.
Does New Zealand’s tolerance come from having fewer immigrants?
Not really – one in four New Zealanders are born overseas which is a very high level internationally. It’s more that New Zealand is a settler society – like Australia, Canada and the United States. Generally speaking, people in these places feel like their country has been built on immigration, and they tend to have more positive responses to difference and diversity.
Numbers are a factor within New Zealand, however. We did research looking at attitudes towards immigrants across territorial authorities, looking both at immigrants in general and newer immigrants who had been in New Zealand 10 years or less. With respect to the newer immigrants, the attitudes to immigration became more positive as the numbers increased until they hit a certain percentage, around 10%, like a tipping point. When numbers rose beyond the tipping point, attitudes became increasingly negative. It will come as no surprise that the areas beyond the tipping point were in the Auckland region. So if New Zealanders really feel that there are too many immigrants, their attitudes do become more negative.
How will our attitudes look in future?
The thing about New Zealand is we have to be constantly vigilant. Right now we’re living in an Islamaphobic world and we have to be particularly mindful of our Islamic community, making them feel like they are kiwis and are included. Most of our immigrants are new, first generation immigrants from Asia. So far relationships are good and the path to integration has been relatively smooth. But when you first move to a place you might be prepared to put up with some hardship – those in the second generation have stronger identity as kiwis and will be less willing to put up with discrimination. In Europe people are called immigrants who have lived there for generations – they shouldn’t even be called immigrants anymore. There are some data from the United States that first generation immigrants have higher levels of wellbeing and academic achievement than their descendants. But it’s complicated. The point is that while you can talk about how Chinese came here with the goldrush, the old Chinese in New Zealand did very much assimilate. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the new Chinese and we need to be proactive to ensure the social cohesion of our society.
These interviews are supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which promotes, invests in and celebrates excellence in people and ideas, for the benefit of all New Zealanders.