Diversity in Houston
Growing diversity, shrinking segregation and inclusive attitudes help our communities thrive
Not only is diversity flourishing throughout our region, but most residents are happy with its effects.
Why diversity matters to Houston
As one of the most diverse regions in the country, Houston’s three main counties help to set the tone for diversity nationwide. Diversity helps Houstonians connect more deeply with world communities by broadening our perspectives and increasing our understanding of people from different backgrounds. Diversity in the workplace can even lead to improved business outcomes. But even as people of color and immigrant populations continue to grow and shape our communities, these groups face discriminatory practices and lingering inequalities that can result in poor health, lower-quality housing, and reduced educational and employment opportunities, all of which can reduce upward mobility for these vital members of our society. 1
By staying informed and working together, Houstonians can build a more equitable society that works for all its members — empowering greater prosperity for us all.
Racial and ethnic composition in the Houston area
Growth in diverse populations is a source of both opportunity and challenge. Hispanic and Asian populations are booming across greater Houston. The greater Houston area is perhaps one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, leading trends that are similarly affecting the state and nation.
All three counties saw a decrease in the share of the White population and an increase in the share of the Hispanic population from 1980 to 2017. The share of the Black population remained relatively stable in all three counties, while the share of the Asian population and those of other/mixed race and ethnicities increased in all counties.
In the three-county area, the racial/ethnic composition of children under five is also becoming increasingly diverse. While Fort Bend County shows a somewhat even distribution of races and ethnicities for this age group, a majority of Harris County’s youngest population is Hispanic (53%) while children under five in Montgomery County remain majority White (54%).
High levels of diversity with declining segregation
High percentages of different racial/ethnic groups aren’t necessarily meaningful if that diversity doesn’t translate in our day-to-day lives. To take a deeper look at how diversity works in our communities, we also examine the fractionalization index. The fractionalization index uses population data to measure the likelihood that two random people in a given area will be of a different race or ethnic group. Scores range from zero to one, with one indicating a 100% chance that two randomly chosen people are of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, and zero indicating no chance this would happen.
Fort Bend County has the highest amount of diversity (0.75 in 2017) among the three counties; while Montgomery County shows the largest increase in diversity from 2010 to 2017 (up from 0.45 to 0.50). Harris County shows little change in its diversity during this time period.
Racial segregation and the entropy index
The ability for people of diverse backgrounds to enrich our lives only occurs if we live, work, learn and play among one another. A way of measuring segregation in our communities is to look at the entropy index. The entropy index measures how much specific racial/ethnic groups concentrate in specific areas or neighborhoods. A community with an entropy index score of one is considered completely segregated (only one race/ethnic group is represented in the area) while a score of zero indicates complete diversity (each race is represented by no more than one person or household).2
While segregation levels in the three-county area are fairly low overall, Harris County is the most segregated county in the region with a 0.23 entropy index score as of 2017. Although less diverse than Fort Bend or Harris counties, Montgomery County is the least segregated (0.09).
Language diversity in the Houston area
Because our diverse region includes people from all around the world, Houston-area residents speak a variety of languages, indicating a strongly multi-language population.
Most people over the age of five speak English only, but Harris and Fort Bend counties have a high share of non-English speaking households (45% and 40% respectively). Consistent with its lower rates of diversity, Montgomery County has the smallest percentage of people speaking a language other than English at home (24%). In Harris County, 28% of residents are limited English speakers who speak English either “not well” or “not at all,” indicating a dire need for language instruction and bilingual services in the area.
Fort Bend County has the greatest linguistic diversity of the three-county area. Other than English, the most common language spoken across the three counties is Spanish. After Spanish comes a larger category of Other Indo-European languages (e.g. Italian, Greek, Hindi, Persian), then Vietnamese, and then Chinese.
Attitudes on diversity in the Houston area
Diversity thrives throughout our region in-part because a majority of residents across all three major counties view it as a positive force in their communities.
More Fort Bend County (79%) and Harris County (74%) residents feel the increasing diversity is a good thing, and their numbers have only increased since 2015. While the majority of Montgomery County residents (64%) also report that they think increasing diversity is a good thing, rates in the area have held steady.
When broken down by age, positive attitudes about diversity still apply to a majority of three-county residents. The vast majority of young people ages 18–29 embrace diversity and immigration as a good thing, with attitudes consistently skewing more negative among older populations.
Houston’s foreign-born population
Houston’s diversity has a lot to do with our large foreign-born population. And because Houston is a large port of entry with many international flights, has a long history of international migration, has a positive attitude toward immigration, possesses a healthy labor market, and has a reputation for low housing costs, our region is very attractive to those across the world in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families.
Today, immigrants represent one in every four people in the Houston three-county region. Across the three-county area, annual growth rates of the foreign-born population have gone from nearly 10x to 2x the rate of growth for native populations since 1980. While still outpacing natives, the rate of immigrant population growth has seen a steep decline since 2000.
Native countries of our foreign-born population
Immigrants from Latin-American countries make up a majority of the region’s foreign-born population, especially in Harris and Montgomery counties. Meanwhile, Fort Bend County immigrants are largely from Asian countries (52%) and Montgomery County has double the share of foreign-born residents from European countries compared to the other counties.
- Fortuny, Karina, et al. “Children of Immigrants: National and State Characteristics.” Perspectives on Low-Income Working Families Brief 9 (2009).
- Reardon, Sean F. and Glenn Firebaugh. “Measures of Multigroup Segregation.” Sociological Methodology 32, no. 1 (2002): 33-67.