Ethnic Diversity and Cooperation. Causality, Linking Mechanisms, and Context


Dissertation project

Susanne Veit’s dissertation with the title “Ethnic Diversity and Cooperation: Contexts, Linking Mechanisms, and Causality” addresses the heated scientific debate about the potential challenges of cultural diversity to social cohesion and civic engagement. The empirical studies this dissertation draws on were realized within the framework of the project “Ethnische Vielfalt, soziales Vertrauen und Zivilengagement” (project head: Ruud Koopmans, funding: Germany Family Ministry). Susane Veit successfully defended her dissertation in the end of 2014 (summa cum laude). In July 2015, the dissertation was honored by the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) by a Best Dissertation Award Honorable Mention.

Theoretical background and objectives

Focusing on research gaps in the prevalent literature; the dissertation advances the debate about lower trust and cooperation in ethnically diverse settings in several ways.  First, the dissertation introduces the BARCO model of BARriers to COoperation in ethnically diverse groups. Integrating the literature on ethnic diversity and cooperation from different disciplines (e.g., sociology, economics, and psychology), the BARCO model provides a theoretical framework that specifies different mediating paths (outgroup preferences, expectations, ethno-cultural similarities, and network opportunities) and differentiates between potential motivational barriers and coordination problems in ethnically diverse groups. Second, the six empirical studies that are presented in the dissertation test the predictions that can be derived from the BARCO model. Instead of seeking to refute or confirm the diversity-cooperation link, the empirical studies pay more attention to potential explanations for lower levels of cooperation in ethnically diverse groups. Third, the empirical studies apply different methods, combining contextual statistics (of German regions, Berlin neighborhoods or public elementary schools) with survey (a population survey and a survey among parents of 4th grade pupils, see Koopmans, Dunkel, Schaeffer, & Veit, 2011) and survey experiments (Koopmans & Veit, 2014b; Veit, 2014) as well as field experiments (Koopmans & Veit, 2014a). By doing so, the empirical evidence overcomes some of the limitations of previous studies—for example, by addressing the question of causality, by investigating cooperative behavior in everyday situations, or by linking individual behavior in experiments to social realities. Fourth and finally, the empirical studies broach the issue of generalizability by investigating the moderating roles of group membership (natives and immigrants), the setting (German neighborhoods and schools), and task characteristics (high or low task difficulty).  


First and foremost, the empirical results consistently suggest that ethnic diversity challenges cooperation. A negative link between ethnic diversity and cooperation is confirmed for natives and immigrants, for neighborhoods and schools, and for attitudinal as well as behavioral measures of cooperation. Moreover, the results of two priming experiments provide empirical evidence on the causality of the relationship. Raising the salience of ethnic diversity leads to more negative judgments of cooperation, both with regard to peoples’ trust in their fellow neighbors to return a lost wallet as well as with regard to parents’ judgments of parental cooperation at school. Raising the salience of diversity in age or different financial means, by contrast, has no such effect.
As for the mediating paths that are outlined by the BARCO model, the findings are supportive of motivational barriers and coordination problems in ethnically diverse groups. The motivational path is supported by the empirical evidence showing that the salience of ethno-cultural categories influences perceived cooperativeness. Moreover, the findings suggest that more pessimistic judgments of the likelihood that collective action can succeed diminish intentions to cooperate in ethnically diverse settings. The second path, which suggests that ethnic diversity makes the coordination of collective action difficult, is supported by the negative correlation between ethnic diversity and coordination and by the empirical evidence showing that the size and ethnic composition of social networks influence trust and cooperation in ethnically diverse groups.The results highlight that it is important to differentiate between different forms of contact (i.e., contact valence, contact quality, intra- and interethnic contact). ).In addition, the findings show that opportunities for different forms of contact as well as the consequences of such contacts for social cohesion differ between native and immigrant residents. One surprising findings is that preferences play a minor role for cooperation in ethnically diverse groups. Neither preferences for the ethnic identity of the beneficiaries of collective action nor diverging preferences for public goods were confirmed to strongly influence cooperation in ethnically diverse groups.


In sum, by using mixed methods in different settings while paying particular attention to similarities and differences between natives and immigrants, this dissertation puts the findings of previous studies on a firmer footing. It provides I) a theoretical framework (BARCO model), which specifies different paths by which ethnic diversity may affect cooperation, and II) presents empirical test of the models’ main assumptions. By doing so, the dissertation contributes to our understanding of how ethnic group composition affects cooperation. The simultaneous consideration of mediating variables and moderating characteristics highlights the complexity of the processes and dynamics that are associated with cooperation in ethnically diverse groups.

Main content

Veit, Susanne (2015). Ethnic diversity and cooperation: Causality, Linking Mechanism, and Contexts.Dissertation: Freie Universität Berlin [Microfiche].

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Veit, Susanne (2015): "Thinking about Ethnic Diversity. Experimental Evidence on the Causal Role of Ethnic Diversity in German Neighborhoods and Schools". In: Ruud Koopmans/Bram Lancee/Merlin Schaeffer (Eds.): Immigration and Social Cohesion in Europe and North America. Mechanisms, Conditions and Causality. Routledge Advances in Sociology, Vol. 137. London/New York, NY: Routledge, S. 167-186.
Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne (2014): "Cooperation in Ethnically Diverse Neighborhoods. A Lost-letter Experiment". In: Political Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 3, S. 379–400. (Vorab online publiziert 12. Juni 2013)
Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne (2014): "Ethnic Diversity, Trust, and the Mediating Role of Positive and Negative Interethnic Contact. A Priming Experiment". In: Social Science Research, Vol. 47, S. 91-107. (vorab online publiziert 12.04.2014)
Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne (2014): "Cooperation in Ethnically Diverse Neighborhoods. A Lost-letter Experiment". In: Political Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 3, S. 379–400. (Vorab online publiziert 12. Juni 2013)
Veit, Susanne (2012): "Fremdeln in der Vielfalt. In ethnisch bunten Gesellschaften nimmt das Vertrauen ab". In: WZB-Mitteilungen, H. 135, S. 9-12 (auch erschienen in: Schattenblick, online:; Xing - Ein Kulturmagazin, H. 22/2012, S. 33-37).
Veit, Susanne (2012): "Estrangement in Diversity. Heterogeneity and the Level of Trust in a Neighborhood". In: WZB Reports, No. 1/Winter 2012/13, S. 6-8. (Zuerst publiziert in: WZB-Mitteilungen, H. 135/März 2012)
Schaeffer, Merlin/Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne/Wagner, Mareike/Wiedner, Jonas (2011): The Ethnic Diversity and Collective Action Survey (EDCAS). Technical Report. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2011-701. Berlin: WZB.
Koopmans, Ruud/Dunkel, Anna/Schaeffer, Merlin/Veit, Susanne (2011): Ethnische Diversität, soziales Vertrauen und Zivilengagement. Projektbericht - Im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2011–703. Berlin: WZB.
Projektbezogene Veranstaltungen

Best Dissertation Honorable Mention of the International Society of Political Psychology, ISPP (2015)

3SAT Dokumentation (2015): Solidarität in der Krise -Zusammenleben in Zeiten von Selfies und Singles. TV-Reportage, die u.a. über das "lost letter" Experiment berichtet, siehe Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne (2014)

Radio Kultur (2012): Live Radio-Interview über das "lost letter" Experiment,  siehe Koopmans, Ruud/Veit, Susanne (2014)