THE WASHINGTON POST
By Max Fisher (
Ethnicity, like race, is a social construct, but it’s still a construct with significant implications for the world. How people perceive ethnicity, both their own and that of others, can be tough to measure, particularly given that it’s so subjective. So how do you study it?
When five economists and social scientists set out to measure ethnic diversity for a landmark 2002 paper for the Harvard Institute of Economic Research, they started by comparing data from an array of different sources: national censuses, Encyclopedia Brittanica, the CIA, Minority Rights Group International and a 1998 study called «Ethnic Groups Worldwide.» They looked for consistence and inconsistence in the reports to determine what data set would be most reliable and complete. Because data sources such as censuses or surveys are self-reported – in other words, people are classified how they ask to be classified – the ethnic group data reflects how people see themselves, not how they’re categorized by outsiders. Those results measured 650 ethnic groups in 190 countries.
One thing the Harvard Institute authors did with all that data was measure it for what they call ethnic fractionalization. Another word for it might be diversity. They gauged this by asking an elegantly simple question: If you called up two people at random in a particular country and ask them their ethnicity, what are the odds that they would give different answers? The higher the odds, the more ethnically «fractionalized» or diverse the country. I’ve mapped out the results above… MORE