“I am proud that as we speak, this great city of London, probably the most diverse city in the world, is hosting athletes from 204 nations. ”
David Cameron, The Telegraph, 7 August 2012
As the country basks in a golden Olympic glow courtesy of some stellar performances from Team GB, London itself has been the focus of international attention, with the city described as 'probably the most diverse in the world' by the Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron did however sound a little unsure of his claim. So how does London compare with other cities when it comes to diversity?
An obvious problem with this sort of claim is the scope of it: not only is the sheer number of possible comparison points with London overwhelming, but how to define what makes a city diverse and how to rank different international metropolises accordingly, is not an easy question.
Broadly a city's diversity is seen in the demographics of its citizens . However, there could be any number of factors you could use to measure this, including age, sexual orientation and ethnic and religious identities.
Usually however it is used to refer to the ethnic mix of a city. What we can do therefore is to compare London’s ethnic diversity with a handful of other cities renowned for being “diverse” and see how the capital does in head-to-head competition.
The most recent statistical breakdown of ethnicity in London is provided by the Office for National Statistics’ report on “Population Estimates by Ethic Group” for mid 2009, published in June 2011.
Despite being the most reliable data on ethnic breakdown in London since the 2001 census, the report should be treated with due caution. The statistics are “experimental” and thus have not received formal National Statistics status. They are, however, solid enough for our purposes of comparison here.
A condensed version of the breakdown of the London population by ethnic groups from the report is set out below:
To give some sense of what these numbers mean for how “diverse” we can consider the city, the graph below shows the proportions of the population identifying themselves with broad ethic groups:
Despite Mr Cameron's claim, over two thirds of Londoners are white with only 30.3 per cent identifying with another ethnic group.
But how does London fare when pitted against other internal cities?
New York City, USA
Buzzing New York City was known as the gateway for millions of immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth century. But does it still rank as one of the most diverse in the world?
The US Census Bureau provides the US-wide census for 2010, which includes a division of New York City’s population into ethnic groups .
The graph below shows the layout of the data provided:
Although data from London and New York are obviously not directly comparable, we can see that the proportion of the Big Apple's population which identify with a non-white ethnic group is much larger than the proportion in London.
In fact, according to this data, NYC has a far more even distribution of its population among ethnic groups, with the 44 per cent of the population identifying as white remaining in the shadow of the 56 percent spread across other ethnic groups.
So far, then, London may not be top of the podium in terms of diversity.
Next up is Toronto, a city that has also been named one of the most diverse in the world . The latest statistics on the ethnic diversity of the largest city in Canada can be found in the 2006 Candadian Census provided by Statistics Canada .
The Census records and breaks down the proportion of Toronto-dwellers which are a “visible minority”. We can see the data portrayed in the graph below:
According to the chart, Toronto’s population is reasonably spread across different ethnic groups, with a chunky 42.9 per cent of the population placed under the category of “visible minority”.
This, although not as evenly distributed as NYC, is still a good 12.6 per cent above London’s claim to be top of the pile.
Sydney, the host of the 2000 Olympic Games, is often tagged the most diverse city down under .
However it can be difficult to compare this claim to fame with other cities in our list, because the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides figures by continent of origin, rather than by ethnic background.
The graph below shows the latest data in the 2006 Census :
As we can see, by far the largest place of origin for Sydney’s population is the area of Oceania and Antarctica. Only 27.6 per cent of the population originated from an area outside of Australasia and the surrounding areas. While we can't translate this into ethnic backgrounds that would compare to London, these figures do show that a larger proportion of people share a geographical heritage in Sydney than form the dominant ethnic background in the British capital.
Although we cannot get a comprehensive comparison of London’s diversity against other cities across the world, we can at least get a gist of whether our capital is the 'most diverse' in terms of its ethnic make-up.
In this admittedly limited study, we compared the London population of 2009 with the most recent relevant census data in three other cities.
On this basis, London only manages to clinch a bronze in the “most diverse city” stakes. A higher proportion of the population in both Toronto and New York City come from 'minority' backgrounds.