Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Anchorage Has The Three Most Diverse Census Tracts In United States

[UPDATE May 30, 2013:  Chad Farrel did a presentation on this at the Alaska Press Club in April 2014 which gives more info about this study.]

People are surprised to hear about Anchorage's diversity.  The school district regularly throws out the fact that over 100 different languages are spoken in the homes of their students.  But last week the Anchorage Daily News published an article on University of Alaska Anchorage sociologist Chad Ferrel's work showing that the three most diverse census tracts in the US are in Anchorage.

"As of 2010, Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood is the most diverse census tract in the entire U.S. In fact, three of the top 10 most diverse are in Anchorage, followed mostly by a handful from the borough of Queens in New York. 

Based on the index, Anchorage Census Tract 6 (Mountain View) scores 96.3 out of a possible 100 in its diversity. The other two top census tracts in Anchorage, Tract 9.01 and Tract 8.01, are roughly northeast neighborhoods -- bounded by Ingra Street on the west, Boniface Parkway on the east, Debarr Road on the south, and Glenn Highway on the north."

image from Anchorage Daily News

So, what exactly does that mean? From ARCGIS:
The Diversity Index shows the likelihood that two persons chosen at random from the same area, belong to different race or ethnic groups. The index ranges from 0 (no diversity) to 100 (complete diversity). The diversity score for the entire United States in 2010 is 60. This data variable is included in Esri’s Updated Demographics (2010/2015).

This is part of an ongoing series of articles by former ADN reporter Kathleen McCoy who now works at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  She's been highlighting different UAA faculty and their research.  The whole article is worth reading.  Here's a bit more:
A chief reason why Mountain View ranks as so diverse may not seem intuitive at first. Yes, people from around the world live there. But it scores so high because such a significant percentage of whites also live there,

"A key thing to remember is that white people contribute to the diversity of a neighborhood," Farrell said. Many other high-diversity tracts in the U.S. lack a white presence.

Alaska's other natural diversity driver is the relative size of its Alaska Native population, sending it to the front of the demographic charts over and over.

Taking diversity analysis to the neighborhood level is more revealing than looking at it citywide, Farrell explains. A community may have all the various ethnic groups living within it, but if they don't share neighborhoods, the community is far less diverse that it looks at first glance.


  1. this is interesting -- I think --

    I don't know, because the "explanation" is solely in statistical terms, not in examples that ordinary people can understand. Perhaps you can tell us more. For instance, are the six categories shown in the table the only groups that are compared in this analysis? Do you get extra credit for having different varieties of Asian or Latino in your census tract?

    Do you really have 100 different languages in Anchorage? Which ones? I never thought of Anchorage as a hotbed of immigration. Tell us more.

  2. Kathy, sorry it's taken so long to respond. All good questions. Before I posted I looked for a map of the three Anchorage census tracts and found one, but with different percentages. They had put the 2010 data on 2000 maps. I emailed Chad to ask about the discrepancy and he replied that there are different ways to calculate a diversity index and offered to look into the other method more closely. I need to get back to him.

    I'm not sure about your question about subcategories. The article mentioned that our score was higher in part because of the high number of Alaska Natives and also the high percentage of people who identified themselves as mixed race. But I'm guessing the researchers could only go as far as the Census data categories. It's possible that people could write in identities beyond those provided by the form.

    I've never actually gone to the School District and asked for a list of the languages. My wife taught in the bi-lingual program in the Anchorage School District (really it was an English as a Second Language program) and says there used to be a list of 60 or 70 languages that the program distributed. But after a change of administration, they no longer got the list. That's when the reported number of languages rose. The languages would have been self reported by parents filling out the forms. It is conceivable. We have lots of immigrants from many different programs - including Sudanese and Hmong. We also have a lot of Alaska Native languages.
    Many people believe that the Alaska Permanent Fund makes Alaska a desirable destination, especially for people with large families since each family member gets a check. I haven't seen any studies that prove that's the reason, but I'd guess it plays a role for some.

  3. What ethnic groups do the whites come from? Irish, Italian, Swedish, Polish? Then ask the same about the other broad categories presented.

    Sometimes even small ethnic differences are important:

    All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable
    "My favorite example of assimilation is southern Sweden, called Scania. It was taken from Denmark 1658, and they still behave as Danes, more ballsy and politically incorrect, more into visual and performing arts etc. Many even want to belong to Denmark and have a referendum about it. And that’s after living in Sweden for 356 years. That’s between two similar countries who have no special ethnic or religious conflicts, disputes over natural resources or anything of that sort."

    1. icr - I appreciate that broad categories can be misleading and ignore many details, and the sociologist - Chad Farrel - who did this research acknowledges it. Your comment reminded me to add an updated link to his presentation at the Alaska Press Club this year on this topic. But I'm not sure how this matters directly in this post, which is merely talking about the diversity of these units based on available census data which is, as you point out, quite broad. Can you explain what you think the difference would be? Or is this comment just an excuse to put a link to your blog? It's on an interesting topic, but comments, as I see it, should be more about the post you comment on and less about your own blog.


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