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How Racially Tolerant is your Country?

22 May, 2013 08:56  Erin Erin

Upon arrival in a new location, expats can be shocked by vastly different surroundings and attitudes which can result in a real sense of dislocation. On top of this, they may experience upsetting changes in political and social views. This can be not just disconcerting, but outright dangerous for some people of color and specific heritage. As we explored in our post "Gay Rights Movement Around the World", equal rights are not afforded to all people in all places.

Racism and discrimination can be a powerful tool in controlling populations and spreading hate. Understanding these dynamics helps us better understand the world around us, and our place in it. These factors can help determine where you move as an expat, the world you want to raise your children in, and your safety moving abroad.

The World Values Survey measures global attitudes and opinions with a series of survey questions. Two Swedish economists, Niclas Berggen and Therese Nilsson, used the answers to determine Racial Tolerance in a paper published in Kykklos. Respondents in more than 80 different countries were asked to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors, including a choice of "people of a different race". The more frequently people in a given country say they don't want neighbors from other races, the less racially tolerant the society appeared to the researchers. The Washington Post published a response and interpretation of these results, complete with map.

Most and Least Tolerant Countries


This map displays the study's findings. Countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, and much of Latin America appear deep blue to represent they are among the most tolerant. Other highly tolerant countries included Pakistan and Belarus with Russia and China appearing in the middle. India, Bangladesh and Jordan appear dark red as they were ranked as the most racially intolerant. A regional round-up appears below.


Few African nations were ranked because of a lack of data. Some data was displayed, such as South Africa in light blue (highly tolerant) with Nigeria appearing light red (highly intolerant).


Racial tolerance was found to be low in diverse Asian countries. This meant that Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Kyrgyzstan were less receptive of diversity. South Korea appeared as not very tolerant, which was unusual for it's high degree of wealth, education, peacefulness and ethnically homogenous people. India is ranked as the least tolerant by far.


Australia ranks as tolerant in dark blue in the 0-4.9% range.


Europe, as a whole, offers little consensus. There are broad variations with surprising findings, such as richer, better-educated Western European nations not necessarily more tolerant than in Eastern Europe. For example, former Soviet states such as Belarus and Latvia scored more tolerant than France. France appeared to be one of the least racially tolerant countries on the continent, with 22.7 percent saying they didn't want a neighbor of another race. Albania appears to be the least tolerant on the European continent in the second lowest 30-39.9% range.

North America

The United States, somewhat surprisingly, ranked among the most tolerant on the globe with only 0-4.9% percent stating they would not embrace another ethnicity in a neighbor.

Middle East

The Middle East did not appear very tolerant. Immigration is a major issue, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan appeared as an outlier with high tolerance at only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objecting to a neighbor of a different race. Jordan is ranked as the least tolerant.

South America

Generally, the nations of South America are quite tolerant. The only major exception is Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines. The Dominican Republic also ranks lower than it's neighbors.

Significant Critiques

Obviously race and tolerance are sensitive issues and critiques about the survey, the interpretation, and the findings offer further information and understanding. The author of the Post article notes factors like there are always exceptions to any rule, the survey only measures isolated personal experiences, and the fact that people can lie in a survey. Basically, while the results are indicative of racial tolerance, there are no hard answers here.

Also - the World Values's data for Bangladesh and Hong Kong were inverted, with in fact only 28.3 and 26.8 percent, respectively, having indicated they would not want a neighbor of a different race.

Below you can read a summary of the most significant critiques from Steve Saideman, a professor at Carleton University who studies ethnic conflict. (Read the full findings on his blog Saideman's Semi-Spew).

Difficulty with the metric
Measuring tolerance is complicated and by using just one metric an accurate statement is hard to assess. Other metrics could return very different results. For example, Saideman asks whether the map might look different if we asked people whether they would be okay with a member of a different race marrying into their family.

Different people may interpret the question differently
People are amazing at hearing the same thing and coming to very different understandings. Saideman writes, "In some places, when one is asked this question, they may think of a single race, perhaps the Vietnamese think of the Chinese but not of other races. So it may not be that the people are very racist in general — they just hate one group that is defined by race."

Possible Link between diversity and conflict
A landmark 2002 study on ethnic diversity found that there may be a correlation between countries that are ethnically diverse and have internal conflict. This makes a negative response more understandable.

Concentration versus Fractionalization
Saideman explains, "The one consistent finding for ethnic conflict is not about fractionalization but about group concentration. That where ethnic groups have distinct areas apart from each other within a country, there is more conflict. Why? Well, partly because it facilitates separatism. Partly because groups that are separate have a secure base from which to launch attacks. Partly because intermingled groups may be deterred from attacking since they themselves are vulnerable (kind of like mutual assured destruction)."

Difficulty estimating Somalia
The article states that contrary to other points, Somalia actually became more ethnically diverse as a result of conflict. As fighting and resource scarcity divided the country, people narrowed down their identities. For example, someone who might have said "I'm ethnic Dir" before the war may now say "I am Issa" afterwards (Issa is a sub-clan of the Dir). Saideman disagrees, stating,

"Fisher cites the article discussing how Somalia's identity politics changed after the civil war in 1991...People think that Somalia could be the one African country that could support secession and even be irredentist (seeking to annex neighboring territory inhabited by kin) because of its homogeneity (unless they have read my stuff). Somalis speak the same language, are all Muslim, are of the same race, and so on. But they were always divided by clan identity (kinship), which meant that the irredentism was always inconsistent. The leaders in Mogadishu would support the claims of some of the kin in some of the neighboring countries, depending on whether the kin had ties to politically relevant kin in Somalia. Lots of irredentism, targeting Somalis in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti in the early 1960s because the electoral system required playing to a wider audience. In the mid to late 1970s, the irredentism only focused on the Ogaden clan residing in Ethiopia because its kin was a key partner in the authoritarian regime while the clans tied to the Somalis in Kenya and Djibouti were not in the regime.

It appears that surveys and interpretations like this one are more of a jumping off point than a conclusion. That doesn't make them any less interesting and valuable as we discover more about evaluating the world around us. We also recommend checking out a map of the world's most and least diverse countries, and this short video from the Understanding Race project from the American Anthropological Association.



Have you experienced racial discrimination abroad? Agree or disagree with the map? Share your impressions and experiences in the comments below.



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