Is the all-white neighborhood dying?

Oct 31, 2011

Chat with John Logan about the decline of all-white neighborhoods as seen in the most recent census report. Ask questions and submit your opinions now.

This is John Logan, and I'm looking forward to commenting on global neighborhods -- both the good news and the countertrends that are more distressing.

Dr. Logan, I presume you're familiar with the work of Robert Putnam, about the effect of multicultural residential patterns on civic involvement. Is there any reason to think that a diverse residential area increases strength of communities, or are people better off when the neighbors share common values and expectations of community behavior?

From my perspective, the important questions about neighborhods are 1) whether people really have freedom to move to the places that they prefer, and 2) whether it turns out that we are able to learn to live with the diversity that is around us.  In the long run, I don't think civic involvement needs to depend on living with people just like you.

I have a data question: as we observe data about people of various Hispanic races arriving into many neighborhoods where they previously did not exist, isn't it hard to compare this with historic data that used to allow count Hispanics as "white"?

I am unhappy with the census's efforts to count Hispanics before 1970.  It is possible to get good estimates of the Puerto Rican population for earlier years, or of people who were born in Latin American countries, but only since 1980 has there been a clear "Hispanic" question in the census (and now, in the American Communities Survey).

The white neighborhoods died a while back in the major cities, have been dying in the suburbs, but remain alive and kicking in small towns and rural areas as far as I can tell. Having gone to jr high and high school in schools that were segregated for all practical purposes (2 black kids out of 400), I think the death of the white neighborhood is long overdue. There is always prejudice, seems to be hardwired in us, but it's a lot harder to hate people that you actually know.

To the extent that white neighborhoods are still being formed in metropolitan areas, our resaerch shows it is on the edge of suburbia -- people who are going further and further away to satisfy their preferences (or to find housing they can afford).  We don't have any evidence that the intention is to avoid diversity, but that's one consequence.  There is more evidence that white flight continues from diverse neighborhoods -- the positive trend is that these neighborhoods are being created faster than they can disappear, and that many of them seem to be stably integrated over the long term.  

Another part of the decline of the all-white neighborhood that I have noted in my community is the decline in people being "all white". I do not know that statistical data, yet I see the young people as being the generation that most accept interracial dating and marriage. Like our President of the United States, the people themselves who are children of "white" people are now more apt to be mixed race. Do you know what the data shows on this?

I'm sure many more people have some sort of mixed ancestry than are aware of it.  Up to now the share of Americans who report more than one race to the Census Bureau is very limited, and largely it is people who are Native American plus another race, or people who list their race as "Hispanic" or "Latino" and also white or black.  I noticed the number of black-white combinations jumped a bit between 2000 and 2010.  

More intersting to me is resaerch that looks into people's family composition.  A very large and rapidly growing share of Americans have a spouse, step-brother, adopted sister, brother-in-law or cousin who has a very different racial or ethnic background than they.  Families are becoming very mixed.  In the long run this is likely to change many people's attitudes about diversity.

I honestly don't mind what race our neighbors are; what I do mind is the government forcing people into our neighborhood who don't fit in--less educated, don't take care of their yards, dress like thugs &/or hookers, troublemakers at school, lots of kids. We have kept up our house & our neighborhood for almost 40 years and want people who care about our neighborhood &/or our schools as much as we do.

I'm not aware of the government forcing people into neighborhoods.  It is pretty rare, for example, for affordable housing projects to be constructed in white, affluent neighborhoods.  The general tendency has been to avoid getting the residents riled up by placing such projects in areas where they add to the concentration of existing poverty.  And although we have laws against discrimination in the housing market, government almost never enforces those laws -- it is up to a miority home-seeker, hwo suspects discrimination, to find the evidence and file a civil lawsuit.  No, government is really hands off on this topic.  

While many people claim to like "diversity," I don't see much economic diversity in suburban neighborhoods. There is some racial diversity, but it seems that people tend to live in neighborhoods where they feel at home, where most other people are "like them" in important ways, including race, income, professional status, political orientation, etc. I don't believe it's overt racism, but from what I can see, most whites live in majority-white neighborhoods; most blacks live in majority-black neighborhoods if the area demographics allow. Does the census report show something different?

This is an interesting comment.  You're right that in most neighborhoods there isn't much difference in the class background of residents, regardless of their race or Hispanic origin.  What we describe as "global neighborhoods" are typically very middle class, and that's one reason that white residents tend to remain in them.  

I am not alarmed when people have opportunities to move where they feel comfortable, and if that results in a certain degree of racial segregation it is not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, even people of Irish and German ancestry live in somewhat different neighborhoods today, and that's not a problem.  What does disturb me is the evidence that not every group has the same open access.  There's a reason why Hispanics and African Americans with fairly high incomes tend to live in poorer neighborhoods than whites with working class incomes -- it's not just about what you can afford, but also where you will be allowed in or accepted once you are there.   And one of the results is tremendous disparities in what people get from their neighborhood -- Hispanics and African Americans are concentrated in neighborhoods with the highest poverty, worst performing schools, highest crime rates ... even after taking into account what they can afford.  So is that "overt racism" or just the way things turn out?  I don't talk much about racism in terms of people's attitudes.  Waht I think is more important is the racial differences in  the ways things work out.  Back in the 60s this was described as institutional racism.  That concept has been forgotten, but the reality is still with us.

Professor Logan, this is an excellent study. I met you a year and half ago when you presented this study to John Landis' DCRP group at the University of Pennsylvania. Comment: The article is misleading because, based on presented maps, I see a dramatic decline in racial segregation in Virginia, DC, and Maryland for White households. Virginia seems to have made the most progress for both Blacks and Whites and Maryland the least progress. Maryland seems to have made no progress for Black residential segregation. Question: Are there regional differences in changes in segregation as well as in patterns household race/ethnicity? Best regards, Florence Wilson, Ph.D.

Thanks for remembering our meeting.  


I am most familiar with differences from one metropolitan region to another.  Among the most multi-ethnic metropolitan regions in the country, the 20 that we selected for the global neighborhoods analysis, we find the same general trends.  People are increasingly living in mixed neighborhoods (comparing 1980 to 2010).  And typically the changes involved Hispanics and Asians moving into neighborhods that were predominantly white, and then African Americans are the last group to enter.  

At the same time, very large shares of the Bfrican American and Hispanic population continue to live in neighborhoods that were abandoned by whites long ago.  You can see these all-minority areas in almost every metro area.

If you're interested in looking at how trends differ from region to region, you can read the whole report on our webpage: webbpage:

Since your are an academic, you might also want to read the article that we published last year in a sociology jiournal.  This is the citation:

Logan, John R. and Charles Zhang.  2010.  “Global Neighborhoods: New Pathways to Diversity and Separation”  American Journal of Sociology, 115: 1069-1109.

Just a quick question about your fascinating article - - what were the affluent African-american NY enclaves referenced in your article? Thank you.

In New York City itself, there is a very large area of Southeast Queens (Jamaica) that has been predominantly black for many decades, and has many areas of small single-family homes, mostly owner-occupied.  There is another area in the North Bronx (where Colin Powell was raised).   

Why are whites considered one race if they are also 'mixed' from different places like German, Irish, other places from Europe.

Excellent observation!  If we go back only as far as the 1920 census, we find that the U.S. government listed people from different European origins as different races.  A few eyars ago a book was published with the title How the Irish Became White.  At the time I thought that was provocative, because in my lifetime Irish were always "white."  But in the 19th Century they were another race.

There is much controversy over what to call "race" today.  For me the more important question is wehther we can identify groups in the population who systematically have more or less opportunities because of their ancestry or ethnicity or color -- and on that criterion the differences among white ancestry groups are fairly small.  

How do the different areas of the country handle diversity?

On average, we find that neighborhood segregation is highest in the large Northeast and Midwest metro areas, whereas in much of the rest of the country there have been greater declines in the last 20-40 years.  My impression is that "race" is more salient in places like NY and Chicago, partly because their minority populations grew so much during a period when racism was consdiered legitimate,  and the boundaries across races that were established then have been hard to overcome.  But another factor is that these boundaries have tended just to be accepted as normal.  New York can pride itself on being very progressive in racial matters while having one of the highest levels of racial segregation in the country (in both neighborhoods and public schools).  It isn't a concern in the public eye.

In the West and Southwest, the African Aemrican population is sometimes the smallest miority, and I think that affects the way that people perceived differences.  But that's just a guess.

We have a house on our street that the owner sold to HOC, who moved in a family who did NOT fit into the neighborhood. A policeman, a fireman, a schoolteacher, etc, would have been welcome. That's not what we got!

I don't think we the neighbors should be in charge of who is allowed in. 

"the government forcing people into our neighborhood who don't fit in--less educated, don't take care of their yards, dress like thugs &/or hookers, troublemakers at school, lots of kids. "

Wow. Just because someone doesn't look like you, or didn't get the same opportunities as you, doesn't mean they don't deserve to live in a nice area with good schools. How do you expect people to better themselves if they don't have access to the right resources?

I agree with your point -- there's tremendous variation in the American population.  Very different levels of opportunity, very different cultures ... and if we only have our eyes on who we want as a next-door neighbor, we will not pay attention to the bigger picture.  What kind of nation do we want?

Thanks to all of you who posted comments. You gave me much to think about.

John Logan

In This Chat
John Logan
John Logan is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences initiative at Brown University. He also directs the US2010 Project supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, which involves 14 teams of researchers around the country who are looking into recent changes in American society as revealed in the 2010 Census and related data. His own research focuses especially on residential patterns of minorities and immigrants in metropolitan areas.
Recent Chats
  • Next: