Most and Least Tolerant Nations

When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country’s level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades.

Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society. (The study concluded that economic freedom had no correlation with racial tolerance, but it does appear to correlate with tolerance toward homosexuals.)

Here is a map racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix showing tolerance ratio of other people in the area. In the bluer countries, fewer people said they would not want neighbors of a different race; in red countries, more people did. Click on the map to see enlarged view.

If we treat this data as indicative of racial tolerance, then we might conclude that people in the bluer countries are the least likely to express racist attitudes, while the people in red countries are the most likely.

Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

India and Jordan by far the least tolerant. In only two of 81 surveyed countries, more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race. This included 43.5 percent of Indians and 51.4 percent of Jordanian. (Note: World Values’ data for Bangladesh and Hong Kong appear to have been inverted, with in fact only 28.3 and 26.8 percent, respectively, having indicated they would not want a neighbor of a different race. Please see correction at the bottom of this post.)

Racial tolerance low in diverse Asian countries except Pakistan. Nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where many racial groups often jockey for influence and have complicated histories with one another, showed more skepticism of diversity. This was also true, to a lesser extent, in China and Kyrgyzstan. There were similar trends in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Pakistan, remarkably tolerant, also an outlier. Although the country has a number of factors that coincide with racial intolerance – sectarian violence, its location in the least-tolerant region of the world, low economic and human development indices – only 6.5 percent of Pakistanis objected to a neighbor of a different race. This would appear to suggest Pakistanis are more racially tolerant than even the Germans or the Dutch.

Here is a map showing racial diversity-map-harvard2diversity in various parts of the world. Click on the map to see enlarged view.

Wide, interesting variation across Europe. Immigration and national identity are big, touchy issues in much of Europe, where racial make-ups are changing. Though you might expect the richer, better-educated Western European nations to be more tolerant than those in Eastern Europe, that’s not exactly the case. 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. Former Soviet states such as Belarus and Latvia scored as more tolerant than much of Europe. Many in the Balkans, perhaps after years of ethnicity-tinged wars, expressed lower racial tolerance.

The Middle East not so tolerant. Immigration is also a big issue in this region, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which often absorb economic migrants from poorer neighbors.

South Korea, not very tolerant, is an outlier. Although the country is rich, well-educated, peaceful and ethnically homogenous – all trends that appear to coincide with racial tolerance – more than one in three South Koreans said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. This may have to do with Korea’s particular view of its own racial-national identity as unique – studied by scholars such as B.R. Myers – and with the influx of Southeast Asian neighbors and the nation’s long-held tensions with Japan.


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