Tag Archives: india

Data visualizations: Is U.S. society becoming more diverse?

Trying to summarize a few historical trends for the last half century (because what else is there to do?), I thought of framing them in terms of diversity.

Diversity is often an unsatisfying concept, used to describe hierarchical inequality as mere difference. But inequality is a form of diversity — a kind of difference. And further, not all social diversity is inequality. When people belong to categories and the categories are not ranked hierarchically (or you’re not interested in the ranking for whatever reason), the concept of diversity is useful.

There are various ways of constructing a diversity index, but I use the one sometimes called the Blau index, which is easy to calculate and has a nice interpretation: the probability that two randomly selected individuals are from different groups.

Example: Religion

Take religion. According to the 2001 census of India, this was the religious breakdown of the population:

RELIGION Number Proportion
Hindus 827,578,868 .805
Muslims 138,188,240 .134
Christians 24,080,016 .023
Sikhs 19,215,730 .019
Buddhists 7,955,207 .008
Jains 4,225,053 .004
Others 6,639,626 .006
Religion not stated 727,588 .001
Sum of squared proportions .667
Diversity .333

Diversity is calculated by summing the squares of the proportions in each category, and subtracting the sum from 1. So in India in 2001, if you picked two people at random, you had a 1/3 chance of getting people with different religions (as measured by the census).

Is .33 a lot of religious diversity? Not really, it turns out. I was surprised to read on the cover of this book by a Harvard professor that the United States is “the world’s most religiously diverse nation.” When I flipped through the book, though, I was disappointed to see it doesn’t actually talk much about other countries, and does not seem to offer the systematic comparison necessary to make such a claim.

With our diversity index, it’s not hard to compare religious diversity across 52 countries using data from World Values Survey, with this result:

wvs-religious-diversityThe U.S. is quite diverse — .66 — but a number of countries rank higher.

Of course, the categories are important in this endeavor. For example, Turkey and Morocco are both 99% “Muslim.” So is Iraq, but in Iraq that population is divided between people who identify as Muslim, Shia and Sunni, so Iraq is much more diverse. You get the same effect by dividing up the Christians in the U.S., for example.

Increasing U.S. diversity

Anyway, back to describing the last half century in the U.S. On four important measures I’ve got easy-to-identify increasing diversity. What do you think of these (with apologies for the default Microsoft color schemes):




The last one is a little tricky. It’s common to report that the median age at marriage has increased since the 1950s (having fallen before the 1950s). But I realized it’s not just the average increasing, but the dispersion: More people marrying at different ages. So the experience of marriage is not just shifting rightward on the age distribution, but spreading out. Here’s another view of the same data:


These are corrected (5/11/2013) from the first version of this post. I have now calculated these using the this report from the National Center for Health Statistics for 1960, and comparing it with the 2011 American Community Survey for those married in the previous year.

I have complained before that using the 1950s or thereabouts as a benchmark is misleading because it was an unusual period, marked by high conformity, especially with regard to family matters. But it is still the case that since then diversity on a number of important measures has increased. Over the period of several generations, in important ways the people we randomly encounter are more likely to be different from ourselves (and each other).


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Thankful for families, or not

Hunger is unequally distributed around the world, as we know. And in the places where hunger is a serious problem, it also is unequally distributed within families.

Around the world, populations range from almost no systemic undernourishment to more than 35% undernourished (click for the full PDF map):

How do families help? Naturally, parents feed their children when they’re young, and when necessary children feed their parents when they’re old. When parents or children are too poor to feed each other, governments, others in the community, or aid agencies may help. And when there is no government or other aid, the people without families are especially vulnerable.

Within families, though, nutrition flows unevenly.

The tendency of parents to give girl children less food has been observed in studies from India, Bangladesh and others, but it is not universal – varying between regions and across family types and children’s ages, for example. Local variability offers insights into how this works: Indian communities in which adult women have relatively higher status show less discrimination against girls.

These things are never quite as simple as they seem, though. For example, in some parts of South Asia fertility has fallen but there is still strong son preference. One implication is sex selective abortion — because the stakes are higher when they’re only having a couple children, parents may get desperate for one of them to be a son. The other thing that happens is people are more likely to stop bearing children after they have a son – not after they have a daughter. Math-wise, that means daughters have more siblings, on average. And that brings us back to boys getting more food — which is especially the case in larger families.


I hate child hunger, a subject painful enough that I exercise my tenure-given right to choose a different research topic. Disparities in educational opportunity or gender socialization are one thing, but gross differences in mid-upper arm circumference (representing malnutrition) are something else. But charitable giving is easier than research.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to give some charity this year, consider adding the right international targets into your giving mix. Our family’s non-systematic review of charitable options has produced two leading targets: Love Without Boundaries which provides humanitarian aid, including medical care, to Chinese orphans and poor children; and Doctors Without Borders, which provides medical aid to those most in need in many countries. In addition to their reputations for sound financial management and good ethics (check Charity Navigator or another evaluator), these organizations help provide for people when their families can’t or won’t.


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