GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The national debates that have emerged on issues of diversity and inclusion – whether you think those considerations are good ideas or not – form a reflection on our communities.

And what we know from a recent aggregation of data that studied more than simply race and ethnicity is that two of the 50 most diverse cities in the U.S. – and five of the top 60 – are in North Carolina.

WalletHub, the financial planning site that often takes an assortment of data and forms it into a comparative narrative about how and where we live, is ranking the most diverse cities in the U.S., which found Charlotte and Winston-Salem in the top 50 and High Point, Raleigh and Durham close behind. With Greensboro at No. 80, the Piedmont Triad had three of the 80 most diverse cities.

This is an analysis of 501 cites that includes traditional census-measured information but on how we mix for our cultural, economic and religious diversity, areas that can change the insight of a community beyond identity.

WalletHub (more later on the method) ranked Charlotte at No. 8 nationally, largely on top rankings for socioeconomics and religious diversity, and Winston-Salem was No. 49, based on ranking just ahead of Charlotte near the top in religious diversity.

Abel A. Bartley, Clemson University (WalletHub)

“The benefit of living in a diverse city is that it gives you a much larger market to sell your products,” Abel A. Bartley, a professor in the Department of History at Clemson University, told WalletHub. “It also allows you to engage with the real world. We live in a very diverse world. There are numerous people from a variety of cultures, races, and social backgrounds. The more diverse the city you live in, the more ready you are to engage with the rest of the world.

“The drawbacks are that there is still a great deal of racism and ethnocentrism. If you are part of a minority group, you may feel the brunt of this diversity.”

WalletHub overall found that diversity is increasing dramatically, citing that the percentage of the population that is multiracial increased from 2.9% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2020, based on census data.

Libby Newman, Rider University (WALLETHUB)

“There are many different kinds of diversity, but at the current moment, two seem particularly important: racial/ethnic diversity and ideological diversity,” said Libby Newman, chair of the Department of Government, Politics and Law at Rider University in New Jersey. “We must achieve both kinds, but for different reasons and in the face of different challenges.

“We can also look at the ideological diversity of cities. Social scientists have found that as our society becomes more mobile, people relocating for work generally choose new neighborhoods based upon perceived lifestyle match. Basically, we ‘sort’ ourselves according to the kinds of cultural, recreational, and religious amenities we value, which tend to correlate with political preferences. As a consequence, we live in more politically homogeneous neighborhoods than we did 50 years ago. …. Living in racially and ideologically diverse neighborhoods is good for us as people and it is good for democracy.”

Source: WalletHub

How NC cities ranked

Oddly, no North Carolina city ranked very high based solely on racial diversity in an analysis earlier this year, but when you add in other forms of diversity, Charlotte posted an index score of 71.79, which was less than two points behind the most diverse city – Gaithersburg, Maryland (73.09) – and Winston-Salem scored 69.82 on WalletHub’s scale.

High Point was next among cities in North Carolina, ranking No. 57 (69.66 points), likewise posting its best number for religious diversity. Raleigh (No. 58) was ninth in socioeconomic diversity, the category in which Durham (No. 60) ranked second.

Following Greensboro, which again posted its best rank for religious diversity, were Fayetteville (No. 81), which was 45th for economic diversity, Cary (No. 138), Wilmington (No. 210) and Greenville (No. 361).

Charlotte ranked No. 4 among large cities (population of more than 300,000 residents), and Raleigh was No. 24. Winston-Salem was No. 14, High Point No. 17 and Greensboro No. 27 among midsized cities (100,000-300,000 residents)

Bests and worsts

After Gaithersburg – and before and after Charlotte – in the overall top 10 were Germantown, Maryland, which ranked No. 1 for cultural diversity; Silver Spring, Maryland, No. 1 for socioeconomic diversity; Houston; Arlington, Texas; New York City; Jersey City, New Jersey; Dallas and Los Angeles.

Other No. 1 rankings: Badger, Alaska, for economic diversity; Hialeah, Florida, for household diversity; and St. Louis for religious diversity.

The bottom five on the overall list were (ranking 496-501) Provo, Utah; Bangor, Maine; Keene, New Hampshire; North Platte, Nebraska; Rochester, New Hampshire; and Brattleboro, Vermont (with a score of 54.72, for comparison).

You can analyze a plethora of data sorted in many ways and see how WalletHub ranked your favorites. A compilation of various superlatives (five bests and five worsts in several topics) included Wilmington at No. 5 for Age Diversity (South Burlington, Vermont, was best and Hilton Head, South Carolina, was the worst in that category).

“Local community leaders can play an important role in harnesses diversity and spurring innovation,” Bartley said. “They can either create a warm welcoming environment or a hostile environment. Simple things, like parks, bike trails, charging stations, public transportation options, dual-use housing, policies on LGBTQ issues, and arts and cultural events all attract or drive away potential talent.

“Public officials decide if the community is going to be open or closed when it comes to dealing with diverse groups and creating a warm welcoming environment or a hostile environment.”

But he said there also can be adverse approaches to diversity. “In the South, there seems to be a fascination with the Rebel past,” Bartley said. “By celebrating this history and culture, you can drive away potential investors who can view these celebrations as racist, divisive, and out of touch. LBGQT celebrations can sometimes repulse people if they are done in ways that offend the sensibilities of family-oriented communities.”

How they calculated this

How WalletHub arrived at the indexes it used to rank the cities is a complex formula that takes in hundreds (if not thousands) of data points across the spectrum of diversity and geography. It limited the analysis to no more than 10 cities in any state, and its five headline categories were weighted at 20 points each and based on a variety of subtopics, most of which are self-explanatory:

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  • Socioeconomic Diversity: Includes household income and educational attainment.
  • Cultural Diversity: Race, ethnicity, linguistic diversity and birthplace diversity.
  • Economic Diversity: Diversity of industry, occupational and worker class.
  • Household Diversity: Marital status, age diversity, household type (think married couple vs. male- or female-controlled single-parent households or partnerships) and household size.
  • Religious Diversity: Based on the diversity of religions in the city.

What can cities do?

Bartley said communities should “ensure adequate coverage for health care.” He cited the need for free clinics, higher minimum wage and sponsoring community gardens to provide more healthy food.

Jonathan Y. Okamura, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said that “it first needs to be recognized that economic growth can occur without a city being especially diverse in terms of race, culture, sexual orientation, and class, while a certain level of gender differences has to be expected. Economic expansion can also result from external sources, such as foreign investment, without requiring an increase in the social and cultural diversity of a city.”

Meera Deo, Southwestern Law School (WALLETHUB)

Meera E. Deo, a law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said that fairness is more important than equality. “An important way to ensure health and wealth equity is to think beyond equality. Striving toward equality means treating everyone the same and hoping everyone arrives at the same outcomes. But different groups have different resources, priorities, and needs. So, if we instead highlight equity — doing what is fair — we may need to treat groups differently to get good outcomes for everyone.”