Ethnic Identity and Equality: Varieties of Experience in a Canadian City


408 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-6776-X
DDC 305'.8'009713541




Reviewed by James S. Frideres

J.S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie


Four prominent sociologists have collaborated to produce a major
monograph on ethnic identity in Canada. The book summarizes the results
of a survey involving eight ethnic groups. The central focus of the
research was to assess the relationship between the persistence of
ethnic cultures and the degree of equality with which ethnic groups
participate in the social, economic, and political life of Canadian

After a short introduction to the problem of ethnicity and social
incorporation, the authors provide a brief history of the population
growth and ethnic diversity of Toronto, the site of the research. Visual
aids allow the reader to better appreciate the changing ethnic
residential patterns.

Each of the remaining four chapters is written by one of the volume’s
authors. Isajiw leads off, with a discussion on ethnic identity
retention. As do each of the authors, he begins with a review of the
literature on his topic, summarizes the results of previous research,
and presents a perspective that is then tested using the Toronto survey
data. Kalbach follows with a discussion on ethnic segregation. Ethnic
concentrations in the labor market and their implications for ethnic
inequality are presented by Reitz, while Breton concludes with a seminal
piece on the ethnic group as a political resource in relation to
problems of incorporation.

The authors tackle two long-standing issues in ethnic studies: the
persistence of ethnicity over time, and the social conditions that
facilitate the incorporation of groups into the social fabric. The
survey results shed light on the issue, and the authors are able to draw
together the major theoretical perspectives. Unfortunately, the authors
fall short of producing a book at the cutting edge. For example, they
point out that the overall trend shows a significant degree of ethnic
incorporation into Canadian society. At the same time, they show that
this has not resulted in the disappearance of ethnic identities and that
social relationships and group formation are not based on ethnicity.
They conclude that “the results, however, vary considerably depending
on the ethnic group and the dimension considered.” Hardly an
enlightening conclusion. Why are they different? What are the processes
that produce this difference? These issues, unfortunately, are not

The authors do not fully analyze their results, nor do they draw upon
their many years of experience to move away from the data and develop a
general theory of ethnicity or ethnic relations in Canada. Only the last
three pages of the book provide any idea of how the authors are trying
to move from empirical results to theory. Nevertheless, the book is well
written, and provides discussions of the topics covered.


Breton, Raymond., “Ethnic Identity and Equality: Varieties of Experience in a Canadian City,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,