World’s Most Diverse Nation

What nation on earth would be considered the world’s most diverse?

How about the world’s most diverse city?

To answer this question, one must be able to “count” diversity.  I propose the following categories:

  • Ethnicity / Race
  • Languages Spoken
  • Religion
  • Diverse Cities

So here goes… what nation on earth is the most diverse?


Ethnicity / Race

Ethnicity is very complex.  Is it related only to physical characteristics or does it also have linguistic aspects.   A country like Papua New Guinea with lots of distinct languages and cultures ranks low on ethnicity scales if the determiner is something like skin color. Race is also problematic in large part because within major racial grouping there are many different cultures.

I am going to suggest that ethnicity and race are not very helpful for determining the answer to this question.

No points awarded.


Languages Spoken

Shamelessly stealing text from the CIA (can I get in trouble for this?) is perhaps the best list of countries and their spoken languages that I could find.  Here it is:

Top 20 Languages by Number of Languages Spoken
Data source: CIA World Fact Book.

Country # of languages % of world
languages
Official or national language(s) Total population
(July 2005 est.)
1. Papua New Guinea 820 11.86% Hiri Motu, Tok Pisin,
English
5,545,268
2. Indonesia 742 10.73% Indonesian 241,973,879
3. Nigeria 516 7.47% Edo, Efik, Adamawa Fulfulde, Hausa, Idoma, Igbo, Central Kanuri, Yoruba, English 128,771,988
4. India 427 6.18% Lingua franca: English & Hindi
Official languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Meitei, Nepali, Oriya, Eastern Panjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu.
1,080,264,388
5. USA 311 4.50% English
Regional: Hawaiian (in Hawaii), Spanish (in New Mexico)
295,734,134
6. Mexico 297 4.30% Spanish 106,202,903
7. Cameroon 280 4.05% English, French 16,380,005
8. Australia 275 3.98% English 20,090,437
9. China 241 3.49% Mandarin Chinese
Regional: Daur, Kalmyk-Oirat, Lu, Peripheral Mongolian, Central Tibetan, Uyghur, Xibe, Northern Zhuang
1,306,313,812
10. Democratic Republic of Congo 216 3.12% Koongo, Lingala, Luba-Kasai, Congo Swahili, French 60,085,804

Score a point for Papua New Guinea (PNG).

PNG is very diverse linguistically and culturally. The religious views of PNG’ers are divided between Protestant Christianity and Tribal animism.  There are also plenty of “cargo cults” present.  Islam is seeking to influence the nation as well.


Religion

Religious diversity is a tough one.  From my research, there are three countries that lay claim to being the most religiously diverse.  There are Indonesia, India, and the United States (I am sure there are others but these come up the most).

Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world.  They also have a Buddhist and Hindu presence.  Christians make up as much as 15% of the population.  Islam makes up for 80% of the population.  Islamic repression of other religions, however, would lead me to believe that they are not the most religiously diverse nation.  So, I would strike them off the list pretty quickly.

India is the birthplace of four major religions.  Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  it is roughly 80% Hindu but also has a substantial islamic population.  Within Hinduism there is great diversity as well.  India could be a contender for the title of most diverse nation religiously.

However, the title has to go to the United States.

Diane Eck, in her book, A New Religious America : How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, makes a strong case that the United States has become the nation with the greatest number of religions present within its borders.  She traces this in part to a change in immigration law back in the 1960′s.  It’s the immigration angle that the United States has over other contenders in this category.

Even Canada and Australia, with their relaxed immigration policies, pale by comparison when it comes to the sheer numbers of immigrants who, of course, bring their religions with them.  35 million Americans are legal immigrants who were not born in the USA.  Millions more are in the US illegally.  That’s 35 million out of the world’s 200 million immigrants (source can be found here).  Many immigrants to the US are hispanic and therefore either Catholic or Protestant.  However, in “2005 alone more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent U.S. residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades” (source can be found here).

Score a point for the USA and this time, the referee can’t take that point away.


Most Diverse City in the World

I could find no conclusive answer to this question.  Toronto certainly claims the title, but the data is very suspect.

I know this is very unscientific, but on the various Internet lists I found the following names most commonly:

  1. London [United Kingdom]
  2. Toronto
  3. New York City
  4. Amsterdam
  5. Los Angeles

Again, I will be the first to admit that this is non-scientific. However, the US has two cities in the top five list (I was trying to be objective, HONEST!).

I think the US scores a point here for having two cities in the “most mentioned” list.


Summary

SO…. This (biased?) American chooses the United States as the most diverse nation on the planet.

You don’t have to take it from me!  I invite you to comment – feel free to critique this assesment and tell me if you feel that it is wrong.


Note:  Population Reference Bureau is an excellent website on population statistics and trends is http://prb.org. Check out their annual global report: http://prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2009/2009wpds.aspx Also, Wikipedia is great source – particularly the footnotes, for finding out demographic info. Finally, I would suggest that the best religious data is available on The Joshus Project.

18 Comments to “World’s Most Diverse Nation”

  1. [...] of Latter Day Saints. It’s amazing with a country as religiously diverse as we are (literally the most religiously diverse in the world), that we are not dealing with constant religious tension. Or, religious diversity is [...]

  2. zöellner 1 July 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I’m from Brazil and I think he is very diverse with many immigrants.
    I’m very mixed and descenendo by father (est: Minas Gerais) of Portuguese, Spanish, Indians (Tupi), black (can not say from where), italinos, and my mother’s (reg: south of Brazil) of German and Poles.

  3. Truth 26 May 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Indian Sub-Continent is a very diverse region as you saw how many languages are spoken which belong to 4 different family languages.

  4. Melitza 3 March 2012 at 9:59 am #

    I have to say that Americans just have a hard-time believing they are not #1 at everything. Although the U.S. has two of the most diverse cities in the World (NY and LA), the same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Having areas that are densely populated by one group of people does not make a country diverse. Diversity is “the inclusion of different types of people” (merriam-webster.com). Therefore, even though the United States has places like Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Havana, etc., it cannot be considered diverse when these groups are segregated and not integrated in the general population equally.

  5. Binod 13 January 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Nepal ! This is a tiny country sandwitched between two the two giants of Asia. Yet, for its relative size compared to the adjacent neighbors, it is arguably one of the most diverse countries in the world. You will find a different language and ethnicity every 10 miles as you travel. Despite people, you will see the difference of elevation, vegetation, wildlife, climate, and what not. Around 100 different languages are spoken by more than 60 different known ethnic groups of people.

  6. Jamie 7 January 2012 at 4:35 am #

    Carlos, while it may be true that immigrants to the US try to fit in, they bring their differences with them and share them with other Americans. For example, an immigrant to the US may celebrate Thanksgiving in order to “fit in”, but their meal would consist of foods from their country of origin. Additionally, the immigrants bring new and interesting traditions that are often adopted locally, regionally, or nationally (Cinco de Mayo, e.g.). That’s why it’s so much fun for an American to travel to other parts of the US. It can feel like experiencing a different culture. We don’t have to leave the country for new cultural experiences.

    The US has no more of a racism problem than other countries. We just talk about it more. We continually address our bigotries in an effort to alleviate them. Most other countries (in South America, Europe, and elsewhere) pretend there are no problems with bigotry, racism, or elitism when in fact there are.

    Our diversity is what I most like about the United States. It’s our most important asset. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans don’t yet realize that.

  7. Holadude19507 21 December 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    You say that by sheer numbers, Canada and Australia fall behind America. You really expect countries with a ninth and a fifteenth of our population to have the same sheer numbers? By percentage, Canada, at least, ranks well above the USA. That’s another thing; all 3 countries mentioned above have tiny percentages of their minority religions, while for example aan eighth of Indians are Muslim.

  8. Carlos 11 December 2011 at 3:49 am #

    I absolutely agree that Brazil is the most diverse country. I respect all the countries and cultures, but americans need to understand that people who come to USA try to fit as fast as they can to “american way of life”, so they do not get so discriminated. In Brazil, we understand that we’re all a huge mix of africans, europeans and indians, which make racism way less harmful than in any other country. Moreover, “races” do not change, they were made up by Eurocentric thoughts to maintain their priveleges in the current times.

    • j-b 14 January 2012 at 4:03 am #

      you do realize that the last county in the americas to abolish slavery was brazil. i lived in brazil, it very raciest. go to the slums and you will see that most of the people living in proverty of black and most of the population is black, then go to any newsstand and look at the covers. every girl on the cover will be white. I mean come on, the nazis went to hide out in brazil after wwII

  9. Samuel 6 May 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    USA is definitely not the most culturally diverse country in the world.. Brazil is one of the best examples of diversity. Brazil is so diverse in fact that on the country's census does not ask what your ethnicity is. this is because most of the population is a mix of two, three or more ethnicitys. There are people with african, asian, native american, and european descents fully integrated into Brazilian society all over the country.

    • Aaron 5 August 2011 at 2:20 am #

      While I don't really care because such arguments are pointless. I would like to point out that the logic in Samuel's comment is slightly flawed. It could be said that Brazil's miscegeny has minimized the diversity. One could argue that having separate and distinct cultures is more diverse. However, Brazil should be applauded I suppose for tolerance that has lead to a true mixing of cultures and ethnicities.

    • Mitch 13 November 2011 at 1:08 am #

      Actually, nationality and ethnically the USA is the most diverse. Countries like Brazil and New Guinea don’t really count when counting their different “races”, because their races are defined by minute attributes such as skin color and facial shape. Not only this, but one’s race can change in brazil as time passes, which shows it is clearly not related to any sort of ethnic ancestry whatsoever. Just because a country breaks up its own people into hundreds of categories doesn’t mean they aren’t all very closely related and lack real ethnic diversity.