Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Dance of Integrated Neighborhoods

Most Americans want to live in integrated neighborhoods -- but different groups have different standards of what the right balance is. This leaves most people not getting what they want.

Reynolds Farley and his students did studies on black and white preferences in the 1990s. Most black and white Americans would like to live in an integrated neighborhood. The most common African-American preference would be for the neighborhood to be 50% black. Most white Americans would prefer their neighborhood to be no more than about 15% black. You can see the problem -- neighborhoods passing the 15% black threshold are more attractive to African Americans, but less attractive to whites; such neighborhoods tend not to stabilize at 50% black, but keep going to nearly all black.

Since the Farley studies were published, the nation has gotten more diverse, so much so that most researchers would not limit their studies to just black/white integration. This is a good development. The more people see that the options are not just black and white, the harder it is to think of a single tipping point that would make a neighborhood head to all one group or another.

What is striking to me about the Farley preference numbers is that most white Americans would like to live in neighborhoods that are as black as America as a whole is. African Americans make up at most 12% of the U.S. population (despite the widespread belief that the proportion is much higher). This is also about the same size as that mish-mosh category, "Hispanic."

Here would be a good study. Suppose you offered people the hypothetical option of living in a neighborhood that was:
60% Anglo
15% Black
15% Hispanic
5% Asian
5% All others

I think most Americans would go for it.

That is, I think most Americans would like to live in a neighborhood that looked like America.

3 comments:

Carla said...

Have you read this August 5th Boston Globe article yet?
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/04/the_downside_of_diversity/?p1=email_to_a_friend

Carla said...

Ooops, link seems to be too long. Maybe you can do a search for "The downside of diversity" in the Boston Globe, Aug 5. It's about a new study that says diversity/integration ruins civic life.

Gruntled said...

Ah, Carla, you a way ahead of me. I actually wrote today's post in order to set up tomorrow's about that very article. Thanks for making the connection.