Just what do we mean by diversity anyway?

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By Rob Breymaier

Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center

As you might expect, people regularly approach me to talk about diversity. Each time a conversation begins, I always try to find a way to ask what the person means when they say the word diversity.

The initial reaction people often provide is that a diverse community would be one that has equal percentages of the groups they think of including. Usually this is white, black, Latino, and Asian. In Oak Park it usually includes a multiracial share as well. The theory here is that if all groups had equal shares then everything would be equal. It sounds good at first but does not work out mathematically.

This is impossible to achieve in every community because the groups are not equally populous. In the Chicago metropolitan area, whites are eight and a half times more populous than Asians and more than twice as populous as African Americans or Latinos. Using the equal shares method, Asians (the smallest group) would all live in equally diverse communities and 60% of whites (the largest group) would be left to live in all-white communities.

A simple but sophisticated way to consider the diversity of a community is to see how closely a community resembles its regional demographics. For the Chicago region, 55% of the population is white, 18% is African American, 6% is Asian, and 21% is Latino[1]. These breakdowns are more reasonable than an equal 25% for each group. If each community had these percentages, then every community in the region would be similarly diverse.

A more complex model uses the regional percentages and then accounts for income differences to predict the demographics of a community given the cost of housing in the community. For Oak Park the model predicts, 64% of the population to be white, 16% to be African American, 6% to be Asian, and 13% to be Latino.

The variation between the second and third models shows the difference economics make. The two populations where economics make the biggest impact for Oak Park are whites and Latinos. The model has some utility in that it shows the diversity a community could hold without making any changes to the affordability of the community.

A way to measure how a community could work to improve diversity is to check the differences. The chart below shows how Oak Park compares to regional shares and the race and income index prediction. It is important to note that these comparisons are not quotas to be met. Instead, they are reference points to help determine if the community is appearing welcome to all.





African American






Total Variation

Oak Park Actual














Regional Shares

























Oak Park Predicted






















The total variation is the sum of the absolute values of each difference. For both cases, the variance in Oak Park is smaller than for the suburbs that surround us. Forest Park has variations of 30 and 29. River Forest has 54 and 24. Berwyn has 79 and 88. Elmwood Park is 39 and 39. Others in the area are all over 100 for both variations.

The numbers show that Oak Park is doing well to promote itself as a welcoming community to people of all four groups. But, it also shows that we could do better. And, it's important to remember that these numbers can always change. People move every day. About a quarter of all households move every year. About a third of renters move each year. Diversity is not guaranteed. Neither is it likely in our society. Being intentional and paying attention makes the difference.

[1] Latinos are counted differently than other groups in the Census. They may be of any race but can also be considered separately. The percentages of white, African American, and Asian do not include Latinos to keep from double counting persons.

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Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 8th, 2013 12:22 AM

Criticism accepted, Bob.

Bob from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 10:11 PM

John- F for logic. Nice use of the hasty generalization, the strawman fallacy, red herring, and a few others D for style. Yawn.You are a one trick pony, but your trick is just not all that interesting.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 4:05 PM

Rob ?" I decided to make it short and sweet on your post because I felt it added little to the race or cultural diversity conversation. 1) I find it impossible to believe that anyone that lives in Oak Park believes perfect diversity is 25% white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. 2) That view created analytic wandering to prove the unbelievable incorrect ?" a waste of ink, 3) your endorsement of a Chicago/OP comparison leaves me wondering how much thought you have given your proposition. The sheer size of Chicago and its history of having high population neighborhoods of varying nationalities that were formed over two centuries make it impossible to compare to Oak Park. 4) The diverse statistical accumulation of citizens by race demands a better comparison of white, black, etc. Is white one diverse body? 5) At least to me, your data table has no reference to guide the reader to the comparison of Forest Park, River Forest, has Berwyn, and Elmwood Park. 6) Did you do the projection of population for Oak Park in the future? It is always good to know who doing the forecast.7) How did you come to thinking Oak Park could do better when you did not establish a premise for the composition of a welcoming community? As a community leader, it would seem that an essay with clarity is deserved by the reader. That brings sunshine.

Rob Breymaier from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 1:33 PM

Oh, John. You are always a ray of sunshine.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 11:32 AM

"The numbers show that Oak Park is doing well to promote itself as a welcoming community to people of all four groups. But, it also shows that we could do better." So what do you suggest? That some of us looking to move away from OP only sell our house to the other three groups? At a considerable discount to open up the eligible pool of buyers? Not that many in that income group could get a loan much less afford the tax burden on that house. Here's an idea - lower the tax burden.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 11:27 AM

This article sounds like a paper submitted as a college sociology 101 class assignment. C- for effort, D- for content.

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