Socializing with Ethnically Similar Groups May Decrease Psychological Distress

Ethnicity and geographical location can impact psychological well-being through a variety of mechanisms. When ethnic minorities live far away from their ethnically similar peers, they may not be able to socialize and connect with them as often as they would like. Being geographically distant from those with similar ethnic backgrounds can lead to a feeling of being disconnected and different.

Isolation is common for people who are not engaged with ethnically similar individuals. And discrimination, isolation, and other cultural discrepancies can put some ethnic groups at risk for psychological stress. Added to that is the burden of socioeconomic disadvantage that many ethnic minority groups face.

To determine if living and socializing with ethnically similar individuals reduces the risk of psychological stress, Xiaoqu Feng of the Centre for Health Research at the University of Western Sydney’s School of Medicine in Australia, recently conducted a study on over 225,000 adults living in Australia. The adults were all over the age of 45 and were from 19 different ethnic groups.

Feng looked at how many times the adults interacted with ethnically similar individuals over the course of a week, how many ethnically similar individuals they felt they could count on for support within an hour’s drive, and how many ethnic clubs and organizations they belonged to. Feng also evaluated country of origin and how this factor and the others influenced psychological stress in the participants.

Feng found that although social interactions with people from the same ethnic group did appear to decrease psychological stress for some participants, it did not for others. Stress levels also differed for individuals from different ethnicities overall and in particular, by country of origin. Another interesting finding was that for some participants, living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods had a larger impact on psychological stress than any positive benefits of living in close proximity to those of the same ethnicity.

In sum, Feng believes that these results underscore the importance of social interactions for people of similar ethnic groups, but more research is needed in this area. Feng added, “Social interactions are important correlates of mental health, but fully explain neither the ethnic differences in psychological distress nor the protective effect of own-group density.”

Feng, X., Astell-Burt, T., Kolt, G.S. (2013). Do social interactions explain ethnic differences in psychological distress and the protective effect of local ethnic density? A cross-sectional study of 225,487 adults in Australia. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002713. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002713

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  • Jonny


    June 19th, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    I think that this only adds to the myth that you should stay with your own kind, not to move in ircles other than those with people who are the most like you. I don’t think that this in any way is a good thing for society as a whole.
    ‘We need to learn to live among and socialize with people who are a little different than we are. We can learn a great deal from others from different backgrounds if we just keep our minds open to what they offer.

  • brooke r

    brooke r

    June 20th, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    Ok I get the argument but what are you supposed to do when there is no one else similar to you ethnically or culturally where you live? I mean, I have friends adopting kids from Asia and where we live there are definitely not many Asians around for them to hang with. I think that this line of thinking just diminishes the hard work that we have all done for a very long time now to have everyone accept our country as a great melting pot, or at least a salad bowl. We should all be able to co mingle and get along, and who we are on an ethnic level should be secondary. It can be a part of who you are but should never be viewed as being all of who you are.

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