Exploring diversity preferences, part i

Sometimes I find it frustrating when people talk about how important diversity is but then they go live very non-diverse lives: they marry people who look and think like them, they move to neighborhoods where everyone looks and thinks like them, they get jobs in industries where everyone looks and thinks like them, etc. It’s always someone else’s job to provide the diversity they go on and on about. My wife summed it up well. Clearly there is a split between what economists would call people’s stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Digging deeper into my thoughts, I realized “diversity” can be said to have many possible dimensions. Most commonly, when people say diversity they are talking about racial diversity (a mix of people of different races). In organizational, recreational, or social settings they might also be referring to gender diversity (a mix of men and women). Those who are a bit more savvy as culture warriors might include sexuality diversity (a mix of people who are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.). Occasionally you can hear calls for socioeconomic diversity (a mix of people from lower, middle, and upper classes and/or the cultures associated with those classes) and on very rare occasions, calls for intellectual diversity (a mix of people of different ideologies and belief systems)–this last one disproportionately coming from Jonathan Haidt.

(Religious diversity is sometimes called for as its own dimension, but it is often confused with racial diversity–e.g. “Muslims” used for “Arabs”–and properly fits within intellectual diversity anyway. Outside of maybe Ireland, nobody cares much about white Catholics and Protestants getting along anymore.)

Next I decided to examine my own stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Diversity type: Racial
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

I have trouble getting worked up over complaints that countries, neighborhoods, companies, or schools are “too white.” Same would go for “too Japanese” or “too Nigerian.”

Yet I’m in an interracial marriage and several of my closest friends are black. Before I got married and since about my sophomore year of high school, I dated black girls almost exclusively. And what’s more, on a meta level this diversity is an aspect of my life I enjoy and appreciate.

Diversity type: Gender
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

While I might be a feminist in some sense, I just don’t care that much about how many women work in tech, how many women are CEOs, how many female broadcasters get their own shows on CNN, and so on.

Nor do I have many female friends. Discounting family, the only women I’d say I’m close to are a couple former coworkers and my best friend’s wife. Compare that to dozens of male friends, at least half of whom I’m equally close to. And I’m fine with that.

Diversity type: Sexuality
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

I have no problem working and socializing with gay people, but I don’t long for them if they’re not there. And, unfortunately I suppose, they have not endeared me to their political causes–quite the opposite. (“Unfortunately” because I really do think their causes such as gay marriage etc. are generally well-intentioned.)

I had a number of very close friends in high school and college who were gay, but my only remaining of those friends has become more of a friend of a friend. I have not acquired any new gay friends since then. I’m not sure why; one theory could be that when you’re married and have kids you just wind up in different circles from most gay people even if you otherwise share similar interests. Apparently I don’t care enough to change that.

Diversity type: Socioeconomic
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

This one is interesting since in theory, when I think about where I’d want to live or work, I’d say I prefer to be surrounded by people who are approximately in the same or slightly higher socioeconomic class as me. (That is, people who read nonfiction, actively listen to classical music, don’t pay much attention to sports, have 401Ks, eat raw vegetables, etc.)

But I find myself with friends who smoke, earn way less money than me, have southern accents, and/or never finished college. I value those friendships and the perspectives and groundedness they provide for me as well. Knowing I was moving closer to several such friends recently was very comforting to me.

Diversity type: Ideological
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: strong

This is the one type of diversity I care about enough to evangelize. And sure enough my own world is full of this kind of diversity, as I can think of names of close friends from several religions and a quite full range of political orientations.

In a follow-up post, I’ll give my impressions on the stated and revealed preferences of the polite/”mainstream” culture around me. I’ll look for patterns in those preferences and compare them to my own, and then try and figure out what makes this topic so frustrating for me.


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