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UW Sociology Student Finds European Ancestry Division Persists in Rural Iowa

August 6, 2018
head portrait of a woman
Chloe Flagg

Ethnic diversity among white people of European descent in rural Iowa decreases feelings of community connectivity, even though these populations have been in the United States for generations, according to new research by a University of Wyoming graduate student.

The findings by Chloe Flagg, who conducted the research for her master’s degree under the guidance of UW Department of Sociology Associate Professor Matthew Painter, appear in the journal Rural Sociology. Flagg, a Riverton High School and Central Wyoming College graduate, received two bachelor’s degrees from UW before pursuing her master’s degree in sociology with a minor in statistics.

Using data from a survey of 99 Iowa communities with populations between 500 and 10,000, along with U.S. Census data, Flagg found a correlation between white ethnic diversity and decreased feelings of community attachment. Previous research has shown that feelings of community connectivity strengthen positive feelings of pride, happiness and security.

“Together, this work draws attention to the persistence of divisions within a racial group that is quite often viewed -- by both scholars and the general public -- as homogenous,” Flagg wrote, suggesting further research on the topic in larger communities. “If ethnic distinctions among those of European ancestry are still present and influence feelings about community life within larger cities, this constitutes a source of division that shapes the way in which Americans relate to and interact with one another and, ultimately, may be dividing U.S. society.”

The survey included people of German, British, Irish, French and other ancestry.

“The influence of ancestry may be passed between generations in unconscious ways, perhaps becoming evident in personalities, tendencies, attitudes and behaviors,” Flagg wrote. “In this way, ancestry matters for community attachment in rural Iowa today, but how it matters is not so apparent yet.”

Further research is of particular importance because most of today’s immigrants migrate from Asia and Latin America “and are therefore from outside of both Europe and whiteness,” Flagg wrote.

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