Diversity Among the United States

During my social work education, I was puzzled at the assumption that, aside from gender and sexual orientation, “diversity” mostly had to do with skin color, especially of brown and black as distinguished from white varieties. In other words, there seemed to be an assumption that there was no diversity among white (or, for that matter, black) peoples.

This seemed odd. Within living memory, there had been a world war taking tens of millions of lives, the vast majority of whom were European whites killing one another on one side of the planet, and Asians killing each other on the other side. More recently, the world had watched Europeans slaughtering each other in the Balkans, and Africans doing likewise in places like Rwanda and Congo. As with World Wars I and II, these modern-day white-on-white and black-on-black crises did not seem to have made much of an impression in social work education. Instead, as discussed elsewhere, social work diversity educators continued, in effect, to trumpet their support for the winning side in the American Civil War of 1861-65.

In a partial response to this deficit in social work education, it appeared that it might be worthwhile to look at a topic related to contemporary ethnicity within the U.S. I was interested, specifically, in a set of maps indicating the primary states of residence of various American races and (mostly white) ethnicities. (Data underlying the maps came from the U.S. Census Bureau; the maps themselves are from Ancestry & Ethnicity in America.) Here is one such map, showing where the Americans who identify themselves as having primarily English origins tend to be located:


In that map, we see that the states having the highest concentration of people of English heritage are Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and three states in New England, while the states having the lowest concentrations of people of English heritage are North Dakota and New Jersey. (Alaska and Hawaii do not appear on these maps.)

Altogether, the webpage in question provides a total of 22 maps. Below a certain level, these maps provide information on some relatively minor ethnicities (e.g., Filipino, Welsh, French-Canadian). So I did not attempt to examine all of these maps. I did examine all of the maps presenting data on major races and ethnicities, however.

My examination involved a comparison of these maps against a map of the best states in America. As detailed in a separate post, I arrived at the list of best states by combining the listings offered by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and by the 24/7 Wall St. Index. My composite list discarded eight states on which those two indices disagreed radically. I was left with a set of 42 states on which those two sources tended to be in at least moderate and often substantial agreement.

Among those 42 states, I identified what those sources seemed to consider approximately the ten best and ten worst states in the U.S. I have superimposed the rankings of 19 of those 20 states on the map of English-heritage Americans (above) (excluding Alaska, with a composite ranking of 10th best). Thus, for example, as the map shows, Minnesota and South Dakota are tied for third place in the composite ranking of best states.

As the map (above) indicates, English-heritage people are a distinct minority in North Dakota. That is, people who claim English heritage are not dominant in what is, arguably, the best state in America. This, by itself, would not prove much; there may be many reasons why English people would have tended to go elsewhere.

I wondered, however, whether certain races or ethnicities would tend to be associated with the best or worst states. Such an association could imply causality: it may be that the English made a given state great, or terrible, by their presence or absence. Or such an association could imply something very different; for example, the English may have been excluded from, or driven out of, the best places, and may have suffered as a result. The odds of mere coincidence would be reduced if a pattern emerged, with the English tending to be found in the best or, alternately, the worst states. It could still be unclear what that pattern might mean. For example, they or their ancestors may have arrived at a time in American history when a certain region was especially promising. But a pattern could be interesting nonetheless.

To develop this line of thought, I added a point to each significant race and ethnic group that was highly represented in one of the ten (actually nine) best states. I also added a point to each such race or group that was under-represented in the ten worst states. Conversely, I subtracted a point if the race or ethnic group was under-represented in a good state, and also subtracted a point for being highly represented in a bad state.

For example, referring again to the map of English-heritage people (above), I subtracted a point because the English were in the lowest category of representation in North Dakota, and I added a point because they were in the highest category of representation in Utah. That is, North Dakota seemed to be doing fine without them, but possibly Utah was ranked No. 7 precisely because of what English-heritage people contributed there. This is an overly simplistic summary — among other things, there may simply not be enough members of some racial or ethnic groups to make a difference, and the gradations within the maps themselves are arbitrary — but, as before, it could still be interesting to observe patterns that might be repeated across multiple states.

Referring again to the map (above), and following the same logic, I added a point for the English orientation toward Vermont (ranked No. 5). I did not add a point for Maine (or New Hampshire, or Idaho, or Wyoming) because, although the English were concentrated there, it is not in the composite list of top-ten states. Similarly, I did not give the English a point for avoiding New Jersey, because it is not in the bottom ten. Net score for the English: +1: they are strong in two top-ten states, they are weak in one top-ten state, and they are neither strong nor weak in the bottom-ten states.

Repeating that process for each of the major races and ethnicities shown in that set of maps, here were the aggregate scores. First, the groups that the author seems to have classed as races:

White: 9
Asian: 0
Hispanic: -5
Black: -10

Next, the ethnicities, using the author’s terms:

Norwegians: 13
Swedish: 11
Germans: 9
Dutch: 5
Mexicans: 3
Irish: 1
English: 1
Italians: 1
Scottish: 1
Scotch-Irish: 1
French: 0
Chinese: -1
Polish: -2
Puerto Ricans: -6

From the perspective of the races, these numbers could mean several things. They could mean that the white people grabbed all the best places, or began with virgin territory and crafted it as they chose; they could mean the state rankings used in this research tend to reflect white preferences; they could mean that the low representation of racial minorities in some of these states is part of why the white people like living there. Similarly, the concentration of African-Americans in low-ranked states could mean that they contribute to those states’ low rankings; it could mean that they remain trapped in locations that have persisted in being disadvantageous; or it could mean something else.

Among the ethnicities, likewise, several observations are possible. One is that the Puerto Ricans are at a disadvantage by having easiest access to the East Coast — where, as noted in the other post, few states ranked well. Another is that, for various reasons, white people differ considerably in their relative representation in America’s best and worst states.

In particular, the peoples of Germanic heritage in the U.S. seem to have replicated the success their distant kin enjoy in Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, which are ranked among the world’s best countries by various measures. This is a reflection both of their concentration in the North Central states and also of their avoidance of the South. They appear to have chosen to settle themselves on productive farmland, when they came to the U.S. predominantly in the late 19th century, and to have had the inclination and/or opportunity to develop relatively coherent cultural and political institutions. In these regards, they fared very differently (at least by the measures used here) from, for instance, the Irish and Italians. (In case anyone wonders, my own home state of Indiana did not fare too well in the composite index used in this post.)

Such remarks call for much more cautious and detailed reading and research into the histories and contemporary situations of various white ethnicities. The purpose here is merely to draw attention to the likelihood that social work education would benefit from greater attention to the divergent cultures from which the profession’s overwhelmingly white students and educators themselves hail. They are not all peas in a pod. Their ancestors may often have followed very different trajectories, with divergent degrees of success and assimilation in the larger American culture, and with correspondingly divergent personal impressions.

Underscoring that, here is another map, originating in a PDF produced by the Census Bureau. (It reflects 2000 Census data; I did not find a similar product from the 2010 Census.) While understating the presence of minority races and ethnicities, this map does illustrate the tendency toward racial and ethnic contiguity within some of the highest- and lowest-ranked sections of the country. Note also that a separate post combines the state rankings (above) with a map of the states where social workers are concentrated.


One might further distinguish correlation from causation by considering the following map, again reflecting different cultures. This map presents the relative prevalence of bars and grocery stores in various parts of the U.S.


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