Which Countries Are The Most Racially Diverse?

A globe surrounded by heads of different cultures main

Race is a way society classifies different people by a range of biological, cultural, and other criteria. We often use ethnicity instead, a grouping of people by means of racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background. Either way, African nations (such as Uganda, Liberia, and South Africa) are the most diverse. Papua New Guinea is the most ethnically diverse.  The United States is in the middle of the pack.  

Diversity: A Good Thing

A diverse society means a range of people can come together to learn, work, govern, and live together.  The Supreme Court has forbidden racial discrimination that limits diversity.  

One term that is sometimes used when studying diversity is “fractionalization.”  This is a fancy way of discussing the chances that two randomly selected people in a given country will be from two different groups.  I apologize to those with a math phobia.  

Diversity arises from a range of things.  It is promoted by government policies or private appeals.  There are many “push and pull” factors in the movements of people through the years.  People have moved around the world and mixed together since the dawn of history.  

What Is “Racial Diversity”?   

The difficulty often comes in the details.  How do you determine an institution is diverse, including the controversial use of race?  What is “race” anyway?

Race is a way society classifies different people by a range of biological, cultural, and other criteria.  Race is not skin color.  “Whites” and “blacks” have a range of differences.  

Race is a social creation.  Not too long ago, “Italian” was regularly used as a type of race.  The term “race” sometimes is deemed a problematic term, one that furthers racism.  

We now use “ethnicity” to define a broader, more diverse grouping of individuals.  Ethnicity is a common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.  

Studies of diversity often use a mixture of terms.  One review of the world population argued:

Race is the outmoded concept that the human race can be divided into several distinct groups of people based upon shared genetic or ethnic ancestry and/or traits. If a country is considered racially diverse, it is home to many different groups of people who share their own distinct characteristics. 

Nonetheless, studies have been made to determine what nations are the most “racially diverse.”  We should remember that there is some mixture of race and ethnicity in this analysis.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT: The Difference Between Culture, Ethnicity, and Race

World Diversity On The Rise 

Globalization is the interactions among people, companies, and governments worldwide.  

Globalization favors diversity.  Racial diversity is on the rise in many places in the world because of increased immigration, the growth of the global market, and the ease of modern travel.  

Most Diverse Continent: Africa 

Recent studies have found that the most racially and ethnically diverse countries are generally found in Africa.  The exact listing depends on how the matter is studied.  

The basic trend is clear.  Many African countries have a range of tribal groups, cultures, and languages.  African countries are often a recent creation of European colonialization.  Many types of people who otherwise would be in separate nations are mixed together.  

African countries that are very racially diverse include Liberia, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.  Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa.  

Another list is slightly different but still only has one non-African country, Nepal (in Asia) in the top ten.  Nepal, found between India and China (the first and second most populous nations in the world), is a convenient crossroads for a range of races, ethnicities, and cultures.  

Papua New Guinea 

A list that contained the most “ethnically diverse” countries followed the African trend.  Nonetheless, the leading nation was somewhat of a surprise.  A nation with around ten million people on an island in Oceania off the coast of Australia.  I speak of Papua New Guinea.  

The nation has thousands of ethnic groups, each with their languages and customs.  There are over 800 languages in the country, three times the number of languages spoken in Europe.  

A nation that might have had inhabitants over 40,000 years ago had a lot of time to diversify.  

How Diverse Is The United States?

Are we not a “melting pot,” a nation of immigrants?  

We are a very diverse nation with a range of races, ethnicities, and cultures.  Our Constitution promotes diversity by protecting equal rights, including religious freedom.  

Nonetheless, as compared to the world as a whole, the United States is more middle of the pack.  Canada ranks ahead of us, in the top 20s or 30s in ways of ethnic and race diversity.  Canada also came in the top five in a recent poll about nations honoring racial equality.  

The United States came in 65th place among the eighty-five countries polled.  We do have a ways to go regarding racial equality.  We did better in the rankings of overall racial and ethnic diversity.  We also placed in the 60s but among over 150 countries.  Not too bad.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.