July 18, 2013

The most (and least) culturally diverse countries in the world

FT_Diversity_Map

Looking for a real multicultural experience? Head to Chad in north-central Africa where 8.6 million residents belong to more than 100 ethnic groups or to Togo, home to 37 tribal groups that speak one of 39 languages and share little in the way of a common culture or history.

But if you find a kaleidoscope of cultures distracting, then consider a visit to Argentina, Haiti or the isolated Comoros islands off the southeast coast of Africa. They rank among the least culturally diverse countries in the world.

This multicultural map of the world is based on an analysis of data reported in a new study of cultural diversity and economic development by researcher Erkan Gören of the University of Oldenberg in Germany.

In his paper, Goren measured the amount of cultural diversity in each of more than 180 countries. To arrive at his estimates, he combined data on ethnicity and race with a measure based on the similarity of languages spoken by major ethnic or racial groups. “The hypothesis is that groups speaking the same or highly related languages should also have similar cultural values,” said Goren in an email.

Together he used his language and ethnicity measures to compute a cultural diversity score for each country that ranged from 0 to 1, with larger scores indicating more diversity and smaller values representing less.

The usual suspects lead the list of culturally diverse countries: Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These and other African countries typically rank high on any diversity index because of their multitude of tribal groups and languages. The only western country to break into the top 20 most diverse is Canada. The United States ranks near the middle, slightly more diverse than Russia but slightly less diverse than Spain.

Argentina, the Comoros, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda and Uruguay rank as the world’s least diverse countries. Argentina may be a surprise, what with all those Germans and Italians pouring into the country after one world war or the other. But Spanish is nearly universally spoken in Argentina, 97% of the country is white and more than nine-in-ten Argentines are at least nominally Roman Catholic, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

The presence of Rwanda at the bottom of the list likely is, in part, a grim reminder of the mass slaughter of Tutsi by the dominant Hutu majority in 1994 in what came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide.

A caution: Cultural diversity is a different concept than ethnic diversity. As a result, a map of the world reflecting ethnic diversity looks somewhat different than the one based on Goren’s cultural diversity measure that combines language and ethnicity profiles of a country.

The Harvard Institute of Economic Research developed a map similar to the on posted above based on Goren’s findings. (See it here).

A comparison of the Harvard and Goren maps show that the most diverse countries in the world are found in Africa. Both maps also suggest that the United States falls near the middle, while Canada and Mexico are more diverse than the US.

The largest disagreements between the two analyses occur in South America. The Harvard group places Brazil slightly above the upper-middle range of its diversity scale, in part because of its large mixed-race population. However, Goren ranks Brazil as one of the least diverse countries in the world, in large part because virtually all Brazilians speak Portuguese regardless of their race or ethnic background.

Category: Social Studies

Topics: Demographics, Population Geography, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Rich Morin

    is Senior Editor at the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project.

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31 Comments

  1. Matt3 weeks ago

    The data behind this must be incomplete if Australia is not even shaded. Australia, although not represented as such in the media, are one of the most linguistically diverse nations on the planet. Australia has all the same migrant groups that European nations do, as well as literally hundreds of indigenous languages. It should appear more like Peru or some of the African nations.

    Reply
  2. alasdair4 weeks ago

    cant believe that the uk is not the most highest you cant go 5 secs without seening a muslim

    Reply
  3. José4 months ago

    Brazil should be one of the most diverse countries, but the real fact is that everybody learns the portuguese language and the brazilian culture, in order to adapt and integrate on the country´s everyday life. Moreover, interracial marriage is the rule since the discovery, and nowadays everybody is partially african, indigenous, japanese, german, portuguese, arab, spanish, italian, korean, jew etc. So, though we are completely mixed, we still preserve all the different cultures in just one.

    Reply
  4. Jack4 months ago

    What a surprise that many of the most “multicultural” countries on that map, also happen to be among the most violent and unstable places on Earth, frequently riddled with ethnic conflict. Diversity is strength? What a joke.

    Reply
    1. mark connolly4 months ago

      Canada isn’t very violent though, one of the top 10 most peaceful countries

      Reply
  5. Ivan Mancinelli-Franconi, Ph.D5 months ago

    This is an interesting hypothesis : language determines the homogeneity of a country. All the study is indicating is that a lingua franca ( common language), the vehicle of expression used for people who come from cultures that do not share a common language regardless of cultural differences creates cultural homogeneity? The hypothesis of linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and linguistic determinism, state that language is needed to think. That would explain what Edward T. Hall believed – All thinking is internalized culture. Then by having a common language you have a common culture?

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    1. Intercultural2 months ago

      Culture has many components being communication one of them… It´s difficult to understand how can just a language be use to measure the homogeneity of a culture!
      According to Geert Hofstede you will behaviour in a certain way because you are raised in a certain culture. This will determain the meaning you will give to words and how you express them….
      Interesting though! I am using a língua franca to comment on this so sorry for any misinterpretation :P

      Reply
  6. zhelmd7 months ago

    This report seems fishy to me. South America, and in general America was colonized by just about everybody how can they be not diverse. Plus, China, homogeneous? really? The only thing they have in common are the pictograms they all can read. They have mongols to the north, various *stans to the east and multiple Chinese tribes south and west. Oh and Tibet. Thats pretty much the opposite of homogeneous in my book. China cant be the same gradation as Japan, a truly homogeneous country.

    Reply
  7. jow10 months ago

    Mexico is the 3rd most culturally diverse country in the world. A lot of native cultures, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and tons of Natives Traditional Mexican cuisine – ancestral, ongoing community culture, the Michoacán paradigm youtube.com/watch?v=VhZ-EKPPQkU

    Reply
  8. Kevin Bunge11 months ago

    What a ridiculous load. I’m assuming this is Goren’s first foray into anything analytical. He measures the US as not having much diversity because of similar languages, but we have a common language BECAUSE THE WORLD IS ADOPTING OUR LANGUAGE!! And his methods ignore that many tribes in Africa speak different languages but have lived within miles of each other for a hundred years. Language isn’t diversity – this study was a wasted of someone’s time and money.

    Reply
    1. QW12310 months ago

      It’s OUR language. Britain colonized you so that is why you speak OUR language. Your language will be the Indigenous languages of the Americas that the Native Americans spoke. Yes, it is THEIR country that you are in.

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      1. Dan9 months ago

        hahahah! So true! +1

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      2. Jensen Allsop6 months ago

        It is not their country. We created the country. We did take their land to have a place to do it though.

        Reply
  9. Samuel Lickiss1 year ago

    I don’t understand this report…surely countries like Argentina and Brazil have high ethnic diversities given the high number of tribal groups? While many people belonging to scheduled tribes in Brazil speak Portuguese they will also speak some other indigenous languages of which many in South America are language isolates and very distinct from each other. I live in India where the official languages are Hindi and English. I am not Indian but I speak both yet the state I live in is Tamil-speaking. It is unusual in the circles I move in to come across someone who doesn’t speak either English or Hindi is very unusual yet India’s linguistic diversity is stunning. Hindi is the dominant native language while English functions as a lingua franca between ethnic groups. Even people in Tamil Nadu who, generally, dislike the use of the Hindi language have a working knowledge of it in the case of educated people.

    I also don’t understand why skin colour should make any difference. I second the comment by Tom Osborne – 97% of Argentina’s population maybe white but I wouldn’t expect to see any skin colour other than black in nationals of Togo and Chad. I have no data but I’d expect it to be closer to 100% than Argentina’s white proportion.

    I’m surprised the UK isn’t higher given that it too has a huge number ethnic groups though everybody speaks English. The culture of the UK is complex in the 21st century given its diversity of ethnicities all engaging in their own cultural practices. I would have thought, proportional to population, that the UK (and Australia) would be higher than the USA.

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    1. Beatriz Sivieri11 months ago

      Completely agree with you in terms of Brazil.
      I am from Brazil and have traveled many countries in the world. I still think Brazil is one of the most diverse countries I have ever seen. Brazil has received millions of immigrants throughout the years that have helped shape our culture.
      Saying that Brazil is not diverse because most of its population speaks Portuguese is absolutely insane! Language is not the only factor that affects culture. Whoever conducted this study has done very little research on Brazil (and has obviously never been to Brazil).

      Reply
      1. Intercultural2 months ago

        Concordo!!!! Agreed!

        Reply
  10. UnKo Ted1 year ago

    how is australia barely diverse, if anybody has ever come here they would think completely different. i live in cannington, perth and i see more minorities than white people

    Reply
    1. Mike12 months ago

      Yes, this research is flawed if that is the answer they come up with. Go inner-city Brisbane and there are all sorts of Asian populations (Korea, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian) etc. Then there are plenty of Italians, Greeks, French, Germans, South Africans, Brittish, Irish, Lebansese, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Canadian and let’s not forget about all the Aboriginal clans plus Torres Strait Islanders.

      Plain old white is not enough to lump several ethnicities into one group, and even so there would still be a mixture here. I bet I have run into someone from at least 100 nations where I live.

      Reply
  11. Tom Osborne1 year ago

    This is one of the most misleading “scientific” reports I’ve ever seen! A major factor of Argentina being NOT culturally diverse is that 97% of the population is white, yet several African countries are considered highly culturally diverse even though similar or higher percentages of the population are black! And China, although it shares a nationwide written language, has many different spoken languages — made possible by a written language that depicts meanings rather than sounds. Using “language” and “related languages” as a measure of cultural diversity, it seems to me, is starting off with an invalid premise.

    Reply
    1. Linghong Hu1 year ago

      I think you may have exaggerated the role spoken languages in China played on the cultural diversity.

      Reply
  12. Thomas R1 year ago

    A good deal of Africa’s diversity is because nations were often created without too much concern what nations existed there before. Nigeria is on land that belonged to several different civilizations. (Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, etc) Although Africa is a more diverse continent than most anyway.

    I am a little surprised Argentina or Uruguay would be placed as less diverse than Korea or Japan or a few other intentional “ethnic states.” I guess possibly that’s because Italian is close enough to Spanish to not count as different, but still feels odd.

    The US being lower than Canada kind of makes sense though. Although NYC or LA is very diverse the vast majority of Americans are at least nominally Christian and speak either English or Spanish. Many American states (even some larger ones like Ohio) have a fairly low percentage of people born outside the US. I believe Canada, proportionate to population, received more non-Western immigrants.

    Reply
    1. Rich Morin1 year ago

      So true–borders in many African nations were drawn without respecting tribal homelands. Togo is another good example. The dominant Ewe ethnic group is divided by the Togo-Ghana boundary. I was surprised by Canada but, like you, not surprised by the United States.

      Reply
  13. Mikko Lagerspetz1 year ago

    I am sceptical about the measure of distance between ethnic groups that is based on linguistic affinity only – this is a crucial element in the method that the study uses for measuring diversity (see the methods section of the research report). So, for instance, the Finnish and Swedish speaking Finns are by that measure as far from each other that one can be; in reality, they are in all other aspects except language as similar as any two groups can be. There are certainly better measures for group distance (such as intermarriage, etc.). Culture is about so much more than just language, and also as a result of shared history, linguistically remote languages can function in a very similar way.

    Reply
    1. Rich Morin1 year ago

      Fair points, Mikko. As I understand it from the researcher, his estimate is a novel refinement of the ethnic diversity measure developed by Alesina et al. While language is key, ethnicity is taken into account in Goeren’s estimate. But it’s wise to acknowledge that every measure has strengths and weaknesses.

      Reply
  14. Peter1 year ago

    Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda speak the same language, and aren’t all that different culturally overall, in spite of their mutual blood-lust…

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    1. Rich Morin1 year ago

      Important point, thank you. In rankings that incorporate language, sharing a common language is a key determinant whether you rank first, last or somewhere in the middle. It’s also important to note that there are diverse types of diversity measures…and that’s a good thing.

      Reply
  15. Casey1 year ago

    Was there an assumption of one language per person? That may have affected the results as well. Sometimes countries have a mandated or de facto lingua francas as well as a rich underlying language diversity.

    Reply
    1. Rich Morin1 year ago

      Good question! I’ve sent an email to the researcher and will report back.

      Reply
  16. Laura1 year ago

    Diversity is a double edge sword. If the most predominant group is not the leader, then you have what Togo is having: a number of tribes that speak different languages, but all want to be in charge, with the consequential tribal warfare. Tribal warfare is one of the main reasons for the African continent lack of advancement, and this can happen anywhere. The US, for example, has regressed in just about everything – from school excellence to love of country.

    As we say in France, “to each its own and God among all of us.” ….and I totally agree.

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  17. George Rudolph1 year ago

    Under the criteria you used NYC is more diverse than Chad having well over 100 ethnic groups, over 100 hundred languages spoken and greater cultural diversity. In truth there is no country that is home to more varied cultures, ethnicities and religions than the USA. It is simply unfair to place America higher than 20.

    Reply
    1. Rich Morin1 year ago

      Thank you for your comment. Perhaps if New York City were a separate country it would fare better than the United States does on these diversity rankings! Note that these rankings are based in part on the overall shares of the population that fall into different groups. I find it interesting that two different diversity rankings by two independent groups of researchers based on different concepts–cultural diversity and ethnic diversity–place the US in the middle range of nations.

      Reply