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America's Most and Least Diverse Metros

America's Most and Least Diverse Metros
Adisa / Shutterstock.com

The United States will be a "majority-minority nation" by 2042. In 2011, more than half of newborn children (under the age of one) were members of minority groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But diversity in America varies substantially by geography.

A new study, titled "Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities Over Three Decades" (PDF), by sociologists Barrett Lee, John Iceland, and Gregory Sharp of Pennsylvania State University, sheds light on these changing patterns, examining detailed data from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey from 1980 to 2010.

According to the study:

The United States, once ‘white-dominant,’ is increasingly multi-hued, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic. Over the last three decades, immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere have expanded the population of minority residents beyond African Americans. If this trend continues, the United States will eventually have as many ‘minority’ as ‘non-minority’ residents. ‘Majority-minority’ communities already exist, not just in California, Hawaii, and the Southwest but closer to the heartland as minority group members gravitate toward new destinations.

The chart below, from the study, plots the trend in diversity for metro, micro, and rural areas over the past three decades. Racial and ethnic diversity has increased across all three.Chart courtesy of “Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities Over Three Decades”

The study develops an index for racial and ethnic diversity to gauge "how uniformly members of a population are spread" across location. The index runs from 0 to 100, in which 0 signifies no racial and ethnic diversity and 100 indicates maximum racial and ethnic diversity, where "all groups represent equal proportions of the population."  

Even though majority-white places remain the norm, the study states, "all-white" places have declined from about two-thirds in 1980 to one-third of all places by 2010. It finds that 97.8 percent of metros, 97.2 percent of micro areas, and 95.6 of rural areas experienced an "upward shift" in their diversity index over the past three decades.

The table below shows the ten most and least diverse metros in the U.S., according to the study.

Top 10 Metro Areas Ranked by Diversity, 2010

Rank Metro Diversity
1 Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 89.3
2 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 85.3
3 Stockton, CA 82.4
4 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 80.8
5 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 80.5
6 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 80.1
7 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 79.8
8 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 79.6
9 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 79.6
10 Honolulu, HI 77.6

Table data courtesy of “Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities Over Three Decades”

Bottom 10 Metro Areas Ranked by Diversity, 2010

Rank Metro Diversity
1 Laredo, TX 12.9
2 Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna, WV-OH 13.6
3 Altoona, PA 14.8
4 Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 16.5
5 Bangor, ME 17.1
6 Wheeling, WV-OH 18.0
7 Glens Falls, NY 18.2
8 Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH 18.2
9 Johnstown, PA 20.1
10 Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 20.3

Table data courtesy of “Racial and Ethnic Diversity Goes Local: Charting Change in American Communities Over Three Decades”

Metros on the coasts tend to have higher levels of diversity, as the study notes. The Bay Area in particular stands out. Vallejo, California (northeast of San Francisco), has the highest level of diversity, followed closely by San Francisco. Nearby Stockton and San Jose also both make the top ten. On the East Coast, Washington, D.C. ranks fourth, while New York comes in fifth. Las Vegas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Honolulu also rank in the top ten.

Conversely, the least diverse are smaller metros in Texas, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, and Maine. The study notes that among these, most are majority white. Laredo, Texas, however, is 95.7 percent Hispanic, ranking it low in diversity.

The study also looks at the factors that are associated with ethnic and racial diversity across metros. It finds several factors to be positively associated with diversity, including: population size, the share of immigrants or foreign-born residents, a large stock of rental housing, a wide range of job options, and high levels of government or military employment.

The study also finds that the importance of coastal or border locations has declined somewhat over time, and notes that this is likely due to the broader migration of minority and immigrant groups across the U.S. in recent years.

Two factors appear to be negatively associated with diversity. The first is the ratio of minority-to-white incomes. The study's authors note that this result does not necessarily mean that members of minority groups are better off in homogeneous places, but rather reflects different patterns for Asian versus black residents. The second is the educational specialization of communities.  Here, the researchers note that instead of being a pathway to greater opportunity, institutions of higher learning in college towns appear to "remain out of reach for many African Americans and Hispanics, with reduced diversity the consequence."

Overall the study is optimistic, concluding that:

High-diversity areas and places tend to have sizeable populations, numerous foreign-born residents, a coastal or southern border location, a mix of housing and occupational options, functional specialization in government and military employment (but not in retirement or higher education), and a low minority-to-white income ratio. Aside from the income ratio coefficient, the regression results would seem to lend themselves to an optimistic interpretation: that larger, accessible, opportunity-rich communities appeal to a variety of racial-ethnic groups.

Top image: Adisa / Shutterstock.com

Keywords: Diversity, Race, Metro

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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