Ohio cities are getting more diverse; rural areas are not

Alex Dorman
Research Fellow
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October 2, 2023
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When you have a good idea, own it. When you borrow a good idea, give credit! Credit for this next good idea came from a caller on a radio show a few weeks ago. I was driving through the beautiful hills of Southeastern Ohio listening to an interview with Dr. William Frey, a researcher at the Brookings Institute. He was discussing his new research exploring age and racial diversity in America. One of the primary findings from his work was that The United States is becoming more diverse, specifically at the younger ages.  

From the report, “Racial minorities comprise over half of the zero to 4 and 5 to 17 age groups […] The 2020 census is the first to show that less than half of U.S. children under age 18 identified as white.” While Dr. Frey and the radio host were discussing the political implications of these trends, my muse was calling in to the program, ready to share his thought. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but the caller’s idea was straightforward enough, “while these trends may be true at the state and national level, they probably don’t hold up uniformly—the cities may be getting more diverse, but rural areas aren’t.” The host and Dr. Frey acknowledged the point for a moment and moved on. I filed it away in the “let’s check that out later” drawer and kept driving. Thanks mystery caller.


Modeling after the original methodology of the Brookings Institution research, this analysis compares the racial compositions of Ohio’s population from 2011 and 2021, using five-year population estimates from the Census. Racial compositions were specifically developed across nine age bands, and the following census designated exclusive racial categories were used: White; Black; American Indian/Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; Other Race; Two or More Races. The exclusive racial categories of Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC) and white non-Hispanic persons were also used.  

All analyses were conducted for three geographies using new Census geographical features: the State of Ohio as a whole; all persons living within census designated urban areas; and all persons living within census designated rural areas. You can read about urban and rural designations here and see the map below for a visual representation of how regions within the state are designated. An important note, suburban communities are largely designated as “urban” by the census. For example, almost all of Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton Counties are designated as urban. Therefore, suburban residents are typically represented in “urban” analysis in this work.

Findings: Racial diversity in Ohio

When looking at the growth in racial diversity for the state of Ohio from 2011 to 2021, the findings expectedly mirror that of the Brookings Institution report, which measured 2010 to 2020. Broadly, the state of Ohio experienced a growth in BIPOC residents. In 2011, about 18.6 percent of the population was BIPOC, and by 2021 that percentage had grown by about 3.6 percent to 22.2 percent. Conversely, the percentage of Ohio’s white non-Hispanic population shrunk 3.6 percentage points, decreasing from 81.4 percent to 77.8 percent.

 The youngest age band, 0-4 years olds, represents the most racially diverse age band, with BIPOC youth being 32 percent of 0–4-year-olds in Ohio 2021.

Also similar to the findings from the Brookings Institution Research, the findings were more nuanced than just uniform diversity growth; there were notable differences by age groups. The younger age categories, all the way up through 45–54-year-olds, experienced a percentage increase of roughly four points in BIPOC populations. The youngest age band, 0-4 years olds, represents the most racially diverse age band, with BIPOC youth being 32 percent of 0–4-year-olds in Ohio 2021. This is about twenty percentage points greater than the oldest age bands in Ohio (65–74-year-olds and 75+), in which white non-Hispanic Ohioans comprise around 87 percent of the population.


When exploring the percent change in racial diversity in Urban regions of Ohio, the results closely mirror the statewide findings. Where urban regions differ is in just how much more racially diverse they are. For every age band, there is a greater percentage of BIPOC Ohioans in urban areas compared to the state as a whole. Regardless of the urban regions of the state being more diverse, the same pattern of every age group being more racially diverse than its comparatively older groups held the same as it did statewide. One potential reason for the similarities between the statewide numbers and the urban numbers, is that according to the newly released 2022 one-year American Community Survey Estimates, about 76 percent of Ohioans live in urban designated areas. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that trends in Ohio’s urban (and suburban) population will have an outsized influence on the state’s trends as a whole.  


Rural communities in Ohio are largely comprised of white non-Hispanic residents, with much smaller BIPOC percentages of their populations. There is still evidence that younger generations are slightly more racially diverse than older ones. But compared to statewide data where the population percentage gap of BIPOC residents between the oldest (75+) and youngest (0-4) generations is about twenty points, in rural Ohio this gap is a much smaller five percentage points. Rural Ohio does not appear to follow the thesis put forward by the Brookings Institution Report; from 2011 to 2021, rural Ohio did not experience growth in racial diversity driven by its youth. The entire rural region experienced diversity growth of less than half a percentage point, and only two age bands, youth ages 5-17, and Ohioans ages 45-54, experienced growth of at least one percent point in their BIPOC populations. Some age groups, namely the 0-4 and the 25-34 age bands, actually experienced a slight decrease in percentage of BIPOC residents from 2011 to 2021.

 The caller with a hunch just happened to be heard by the nerd with a plan.

The upshot: Ohioans living in urban areas drive growth in racial diversity

The caller with a hunch just happened to be heard by the nerd with a plan. Based on census data from 2011 to 2021, data evidence that Ohioans living in urban areas were largely the driver of the growth in racial diversity at the state level, while racial compositions in rural Ohio remained comparatively unchanged. The trend of younger populations being more racially diverse than their older counterparts held in varying degrees, regardless of geography. But this distinction between the regions matters. The state is becoming more racially diverse, but not uniformly. For the large swaths of rural Ohio, which encompasses most of the state’s land, and roughly a quarter of its population, the state is about as racially diverse as it was a little over a decade ago. Roughly 92 percent to 97 percent of the rural population is white non-Hispanic, depending on the age group, a largely unchanged racial composition. This has implications for continued conversations about representation and redistricting. It also helps us better understand the rich diversity of experiences in Ohio, and how geography plays a role in that.

 Roughly 92 percent to 97 percent of the rural population is white non-Hispanic, depending on the age group, a largely unchanged racial composition.

There are some important caveats to this research, mainly that the urban and rural census designations are not perfect. An estimated 52 percent of Americans describe their community as suburban, and being able to delineate between urban and suburban populations would make for much richer analysis. This analysis also does not purport to describe specific communities, so in the highly likely case of a largely white region of an urban community, such as an outer ring suburb of Cleveland, it would potentially inaccurately be coded as being much more racially diverse than the adjacent rural communities. This is always the case when studying such large trends, but it is an important reminder.  

And finally, when dealing with so many data points (nine age bands, three geographies, varied points in time) it can be particularly difficult to analyze all the census designated racial categories. Shorthand was used to conduct analysis; BIPOC, and white non-Hispanic individuals. The hope is that the analysis is still insightful, while still being clear enough to understand. The category “BIPOC” does a disservice however to the diverse experiences of Ohioans of all races. To remedy this, I have recreated this analysis below, shortening the number of age bands while expanding the number of races to the seven exclusive census race designations. The age bands have been collapsed to 0-17, 18-34, 35-64, and 65 and older. Ultimately the findings are still the same, but now with more nuance to change in specific racial categories. Important to note in the graphs below, the y-axes have been zoomed in so that all race categories can be visually represented. Doing this, however, makes the large “White” category appear visually smaller than it is; the numeric label is accurate, however.

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