Diversity is not our weakness

An August 29th column on the National Post puts forth several bold hypotheses regarding Canada’s ability to maintain a national identity in the face of “so many people com[ing] from disparate backgrounds.” These hypotheses tend to form major talking points in online and traditional media conversation regarding concerns with immigration to Canada. The first hypothesis is that Canada faces a challenge in maintaining its identity given the large number of diverse immigrants. The other hypothesis can be neatly divided into two parts:

  • Fragmentation – defined as citizens identifying more strongly with their social group than the nation – erodes trust and encourages corruption, and that Canada is one of the most fragmented countries in the world.
  • Fragmentation leads to lower economic growth.

To the first point, if maintaining Canadian identity is a challenge in the face of so many newcomers, it’s a challenge that Canada is succeeding at wildly. Take the most recent report from the General Social Survey on Canadian Identity. Figure 1 shows the percentage of immigrants who felt a sense of pride regarding their adopted identity, compared to the non-immigrant Canadians:

Figure 1: Pride in being Canada by immigration statusCanadian pride.pngSource: Statistics Canada, 2015

The General Social Survey also asked immigrant and non-immigrants what they felt regarding Canada’s accomplishments. These included arts and literature, technological development, the economy, and perhaps most relevant for this response, how they felt about Canadian institutions like our parliamentary system, the constitution, and social security system. In all of these except sports, immigrant Canadians expressed a greater level of satisfaction and pride than non-immigrants (Side note: the difference in sports was only 3%; on a different question 50% of immigrant Canadians felt hockey’s role as a national symbol was “very important,” compared to 45% of non-immigrant Canadians). A comparison of immigrants arriving before 2000 and those arriving since shows that this level of satisfaction, pride and identity has only increased over time. If Canada is facing a challenge in maintaining its national identity, it’s not coming from immigrants.[1]

But maintaining national identity is only one part of the argument. The other part posits that Canada is highly fragmented, that this fragmentation is defined by newcomers identifying with their social group (in this case, their country or ethnicity of origin), and that it’s a detriment to the economy.

Against these standards, the article’s author will have a difficult time proving his hypotheses. In Hou et al.’s study of immigrants’ sense of belonging they found that 93% of immigrants to Canada had a strong or very strong sense of belonging to Canada. Of these, 69% had an equal affinity for Canada and their source country, while 24% had a higher attachment to Canada than their source country. Only around 7% demonstrated a weak attachment to Canada, 4% of which felt a connection to neither Canada nor their source country.[2]

Figure 2: Immigrant sense of belonging to Canada and source countriesSense of belongingSource: Hou et al., 2016

Considering the tendency for source countries basis in ethnicity, it cannot be said that immigrants to Canada have a higher attachment to their social group of origin than their newfound identity as Canadians. When considering linguistic factors, the case becomes even weaker. According to the 2016 Census, 93% of immigrants can speak one of Canada’s official languages, with the majority of immigrants speaking either English or French at home.[3]

Yes, Canada is diverse in its origins. No, that has not lead to fragmentation (or “entropy”). But does it lead to economic growth? Mintz contends that the answer is “no.” In answering this question, it’s worthwhile considering more recent work from Alberto Alesina, who the author relies upon for his original hypothesis.

Just two years after the 2003 publication cited by in the article, Alesina and Ferrara acknowledged that in the presence of strong democracies and relative higher incomes, the negative effects of diversity may not only be mitigated, but become correlated with positive economic outcomes.[4] More recently in 2015, Alesina et al. conducted a review of their previous literature, and in revising their methodology, found that birthplace diversity of immigrants was an important determinant of economic prosperity.[5] Due to the integrated nature of trade, the complement of skills, experiences, education and language capabilities of immigrants were found to be an important benefit to a country’s production.

Canadian identity has a long-debated topic in this country. It’s never clearly been settled, and perhaps never will be. Yet the ability to identify as Canadian despite the origins of one’s birthplace, the accent with which one speaks, or the colour of one’s skin is perhaps one of its features. The National Post is right when it says that most newcomers arrive seeking prosperity, security, and liberty in the face of poverty, war, and tyranny. It’s wrong to say their arrival or their origins are a weakness. With the right mix of democracy and prosperity, what may be a weakness in some areas of the world, becomes a Canadian who is indeed a strength to our society.


[1] Marie Sinha, Canadian Identity, 2013 (Statistics Canada, 2015), https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015005-eng.htm.

[2] Feng Hou, Grant Schellenberg, and John Berry, Patterns and Determinants of Immigrants’ Sense of Belonging to Canada and Their Source Country (Statistics Canada, 2016), https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2016383-eng.htm.

[3] Linguistic Integration of Immigrants and Official Language Populations in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2017), https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016017/98-200-x2016017-eng.cfm.

[4] Alberta Alesina and Eliana La Ferrara, “Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance,” Journal of Economic Literature 43, no. 3 (2005): 762–800, https://doi.org/10.1257/002205105774431243.

[5] Alberto Alesina, Johanna Harnoss, and Hillel Rapoport, “Birthplace Diversity and Economic Prosperity,” 2015, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:28652196.


Alesina, Alberta, and Eliana La Ferrara. “Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance.” Journal of Economic Literature 43, no. 3 (2005): 762–800. https://doi.org/10.1257/002205105774431243.

Alesina, Alberto, Johanna Harnoss, and Hillel Rapoport. “Birthplace Diversity and Economic Prosperity,” 2015. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:28652196.

Hou, Feng, Grant Schellenberg, and John Berry. Patterns and Determinants of Immigrants’ Sense of Belonging to Canada and Their Source Country. Statistics Canada, 2016. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2016383-eng.htm.

Linguistic Integration of Immigrants and Official Language Populations in Canada. Statistics Canada, 2017. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016017/98-200-x2016017-eng.cfm.

Sinha, Marie. Canadian Identity, 2013. Statistics Canada, 2015. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015005-eng.htm.

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