The most racially/ethnically diverse large city in the United States, in 2015, is Vallejo, California. This is based on 2015 data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).
Oakland, California is the second most racially diverse large city in the United States, followed by Jersey City, New Jersey; Fairfield, California; and Sacramento, California.
If we use a cutoff of 250,000-or-more population, then the most racially/ethnically diverse “very large USA cities” would be #1: Oakland, #2: Jersey City, #3: Sacramento, #4: New York City, and #5: Stockton, California.
Here is a graphic showing the top 25 large US cities based on racial/ethnic diversity:
Large cities are defined as incorporated or unincorporated places with populations of 65,000-or-more inhabitants (approximately 65,000!) There were 319 places/large cities in the USA with 65,000+ population in 2015. (Why 65,000? Well, that’s the cutoff value that is used in the single-year ACS releases!)
Diversity is measured using the “Shannon Diversity Index” borrowed from ecological studies. It’s actually the “Shannon Equitability Index” and ranges from a value of 0.0 (no diversity, everything is in one category) to a value of 1.0 (totally diverse, all groups have an equal proportion of the population). For sake of readibility, I multiplied this “diversity index” by 100, so it ranges from 0.00 to 100.00. More background on the Shannon Diversity Index and Equitability Index is here, and here.
The index is derived from the proportion of population in five, non-overlapping population groups:
- White, non-hispanic/latino
- Black/African American, non-hispanic/latino
- Hispanic/Latino, any race
- Asian/Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, non-hispanic/latino
- American Indian/Alaskan Native, or Other, or Two-or-More Races, non-hispanic/latino
Data is from the one-year, 2015 American Community Survey, Table B03002. Data was retrieved using American Factfinder, selecting “all US cities” and analyzed in spreadsheets.
The American Community Survey includes two questions on race/ethnicity:
- Question #5: Is person xxx of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
- Question #5: What is person xxx’s race?
Stockton’s population is 26.0 percent white, 19.7 percent black, 23.9 percent hispanic, 25.5 percent asian, and 4.9 percent other. This yields a diversity index (Shannon Equitability Index) or 0.9379 (or 93.79 if scaled by 100.)
Eight of the top 25 most racially diverse large USA cities are in the San Francisco Bay Area: Vallejo (#1), Oakland (#2), Fairfield (#4), Antioch (#6), Pittsburg (#8), Richmond (#11), San Leandro (#12) and Hayward (#21).
Thirteen of the top 25 most racially diverse large USA cities are in California, adding in Sacramento (#5), Elk Grove (#10), Stockton (#15), Rancho Cordova (#18), and Carson (#23).
The term “CDP” in the table refers to “Census Designated Placees” or unincorporated places recognized by the US Census Bureau. They include Spring Valley CDP and Enterprise CDP in Nevada (on the outskirts of Las Vegas) and Silver Spring in Maryland.
There are other alternatives to creating this diversity index, including separating out the categories of “Asian” from “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders”; and separating “American Indian/Alaskan Native” from “Other” from “Two-or-More Races.” But this five category methodology seems to be quite suitable and easy to grasp.
I came about this racial/ethnic diversity measure from a book by my former professors at CSUN (Jim Allen and Eugene Turner: “The Ethnic Quilt: Population Diversity in Southern California”). They based their analysis on 1990 Census data, and techniques employed by the sociologist Michael White “Segregation and Diversity Measures in Population Distribution,”) This is similar to the Shannon Diversity Index, but slightly different than the Shannon Equitability Index that we used in our past analyses.
I won’t go on to discuss why racial/ethnic diversity is important to understand and discuss — let’s leave that to the journalists, editorialists, scholars and pundits. The attempt here is just to provide easily applied techniques to look at one facet of our society.
Spreadsheet for This Analysis (Updated 4/17/17)
Spreadsheet workbooks for this analysis is available here: