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Fragmentation or Diversification? Ethnoracial Change and the Social and Economic Heterogeneity of Places

  • Laura TachEmail author
  • Barrett Lee
  • Michael Martin
  • Lauren Hannscott


Our study investigates the diversification and fragmentation theses, fueled by claims that greater diversity is reshaping the social fabric of American life and that the United States is an increasingly fragmented nation. We take a multidimensional view of heterogeneity that considers whether growing ethnoracial diversity within U.S. communities (i.e., incorporated and unincorporated places) has resulted in the consolidation or differentiation of demographic, sociocultural, and economic distinctions between 1980 and 2010. As communities have become more ethnoracially diverse, they have become more heterogeneous in language and nativity—two characteristics tied closely to Latino and Asian population growth. However, ethnoracial diversity within communities is only weakly associated with household, age, educational, occupational, or income heterogeneity despite large racial/ethnic differences in these characteristics nationally. This trend does not apply to all forms of ethnoracial diversity equally: Hispanic and especially Asian population growth is more likely to generate community sociodemographic and economic heterogeneity than is black population growth. Consistent with the fragmentation hypothesis, we also find that broader geographic context matters, with more ethnoracially diverse metropolitan and micropolitan areas experiencing reduced social and economic heterogeneity inside their constituent places. We conclude by discussing the social implications of these patterns for intergroup relations, spatial exclusion, and ethnoracial inequality.


Diversity Fragmentation Race/Ethnicity Places 



Support for this research has been provided by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD074605). Additional support comes from the Population Research Institute of Penn State University, which receives infrastructure funding from NICHHD (P2CHD041025). The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not reflect the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The authors thank Chad Farrell, Chris Fowler, Matthew Hall, Stephen Matthews, and Gregory Sharp for feedback on this article.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Tach
    • 1
    Email author
  • Barrett Lee
    • 2
  • Michael Martin
    • 2
  • Lauren Hannscott
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Policy Analysis and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Population Research InstitutePennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Sociology DepartmentColorado CollegeColorado SpringsUSA

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