Sunday, 26 February 2017

Book Review: Diversity Explosion

I just finished reading "Diversity Explosion: How new racial demographics are remaking America", by William Frey. I thought this would be quite relevant to my work on the CADDANZ (Capturing the Diversity Dividend for Aotearoa New Zealand) project, and a good follow-up to reading Thomas Schelling's "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago).

Overall, I found the book to be a really interesting read, but that was mainly for the first few chapters, and the last few chapters. Frey essentially uses the book to outline the demographic (specifically, ethnic) changes that the US has undergone over the period 2000-2010. He takes a longer perspective in parts, but mostly the focus is on the (sometimes dramatic) subnational changes that have occurred and will continue into the future. A couple of the trends were quite surprising to me such as this bit:
...white-only flight to the suburbs is a thing of the past. In fact, nearly one-third of large metropolitan suburbs showed a loss of whites between 2000 and 2010, and Hispanics are now the biggest drivers of growth of the nation's metropolitan population in both cities and suburbs. Today, it is racial minorities, in their quest for the suburban dream, who are generating new growth and vitality in the suburbs, just as immigrant groups did in the cities in an earlier era.
And this bit:
Thirteen of the 20 cities with the largest black populations (including nine of the ten largest) registered declines in their black populations in 2000-10...
The latter trend is related to the former, in the sense that there has been a huge increase in suburbanisation of the black population since 2000, to the extent that Hispanics (rather than blacks) now constitute the largest minority group in U.S. cities as a whole.

Some parts of the book seemed rather quaint to me (or to you they may be odd), such as the old-fashioned treatment of race vs. ethnicity, where Hispanic is an ethnic classification, but all others are racial. All the papers I have read that talk about "non-Hispanic white" population suddenly made a bit more sense, although the classification is really worrying. To be fair, Frey himself notes:
It can be argued that the distinction between race and ethnicity, as the Census Bureau applies it to the Hispanic population, is an artificial one.
We can only work with the data that are available, and until the US Census Bureau gets its act together on ethnic classification, US studies are pretty much stuck with the current situation.

This bit also made me smile:
It was punctuated by the arrival in 2011 of the first "majority-minority" birth cohort: the first cohort in which the majority of U.S. babies were nonwhite minorities...
I smiled because it reminded me of this cartoon, which sums up the white-centric nature of the above quote (and to some extent, the whole book):


The early chapters introduce the idea of the 'cultural generation gap' between "the diverse youth population and the growing, older, still predominantly white population". This generation gap will be exacerbated by the faster population growth of the more youthful minorities (especially Hispanics) compared with slower population growth among whites.

Most of the middle chapters will not be of interest to the general reader (unless you are really interested in the finer points of the subnational distribution of ethnic groups in the U.S.), but the final chapters are more interesting, including where Frey attempts to draw out the political or electoral implications of the change ethnic mix. I wish I had read this book before the 2016 presidential election, and in light of that result there are some sentences that Frey might want back, such as:
If Romney could have eked out a victory, perhaps with greater white voter turnout, it would probably have been the "last hurrah" for a party strategy that relied primarily on whites as its base.
Which, of course, was exactly Trump's strategy (if you believe there was a strategy). A map later in that chapter was really interesting, because it laid out the number of states that Obama won in the 2012 election, due to minorities but not whites. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps viewing those maps would have made some of the Clinton-boosters take pause.

Anyway, there are a number of interesting graphics in the book, with thoughtful (and though-provoking) commentary. Probably I will look to reproduce some of the graphics (but using New Zealand data) sometime in the future. This book would be a good read for anyone interested in ethnicity statistics, particularly in the context of the U.S.

[HT: Tahu Kukutai, for the cartoon, which she used in her Pathways conference presentation (PDF) last year]

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