US Civil War illustrates costs, benefits of diversity, say UCLA economists

Diversity is a double-edged sword, making individuals less likely to be altruistic than they might be in a more homogeneous setting but also inspiring them to scale new intellectual heights and to explore new horizons, argue two UCLA economists in a new book.

“People enjoy being around people they can relate to, and they are uncomfortable with diversity,” said Matthew Kahn, a co-author of “Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War,” which will be published Jan. 21 by Princeton University Press. “But even though people don’t like being exposed to people who are different, they benefit from the experience in the long run. They learn the most from those who are different.”

While recent research into lower rates of volunteerism and lack of taxpayer support for local projects in diverse communities has reached similar conclusions, the latest findings are based on a surprising set of subjects: 41,000 soldiers who served in the U.S. Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

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