Institute of Government & Public Affairs

Racial Attitudes and Inequality

The continued relevance of race and inequality as a public policy issue in the state of Illinois and in the nation is difficult to dispute; stories about racial/ethnic inequality in school outcomes, foreclosures, policing, employment, etc. are the subject of national, state, and local headlines on a regular basis.  But persistent racial inequalities, and the many ways in which policies influence—and are influenced by—these inequalities, do not ebb and flow with the whims of the media.  They have been—and in many ways remain—a constant part of the fabric of our nation and state.  The goal of the Race and Inequality initiative is to harness the resources of the University of Illinois to bring evidence-based research to bear on public and policy conversations on the range of issues (health, education, employment, housing, criminal justice, to name a few) in which race and inequality are relevant. 


Current projects in the Race and Inequality Initiative include:


Chicago Neighborhood-Schools Connection Project

The goal of this project is to better understand racial inequality as plays out in the nexus of two critical and inter-related domains:  education and housing.  Focusing on a group often overlooked by policymakers and researchers alike, we interviewed about 150 primarily working-class and lower-middle class white, black, and Latino parents of school-aged children in five neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.  The purpose of the study is to understand how these parents navigate the housing and education policy context in which they operate—and if and how race/ethnicity shapes their experiences and outcomes.


Understanding the Drivers of Racial Residential Segregation

Racial residential segregation remains a persistent problem in Chicago, across the state, and throughout the United States.  Blacks and whites, and to a lesser extent Latinos and Asians live in separate neighborhoods.  And those separate neighborhoods are not equal.  Work by Krysan focuses on understanding how people end up living in the (often) segregated neighborhoods they do, by focusing on the housing search and selection processes.  In this way, light is shed on the mechanisms through which segregation is perpetuated; and, ultimately, helps identify the policy levers that might be engaged to disrupt the cycle of segregation. 


Racial Gaps in School Achievement

Similar to racial residential segregation, racial gaps in school achievement are a persistent challenge locally, across the state and nationally. For example, major gaps between racial groups exist on a range of standardized tests, high school grade point averages, graduation rates, placement in gifted programs, and honors or AP educational tracks (especially in desegregated schools). Resulting differences in educational attainment have major implications for one’s chances of getting ahead in life.  Lewis’s research examines how and why racial dynamics shape educational experiences and outcomes focusing on the processes and mechanisms within schools that contribute to differential results.


Tracking and Understanding Trends in Racial Attitudes

Visit the Trends in Racial Attitudes Website

In addition to understanding the institutional context of race and inequality, this initiative also provides data and interpretations of data that policymakers and the public can use to understand how people think and feel about racial issues in the United States.  The initiative has designed and maintains a website that compiles national trend data on racial attitudes across a range of topics, including what white and black Americans feel about the principles of racial equality, social distance, stereotypes, racial policies, explanations for inequality, and a number of other topics.  The racial attitudes website provides the results of surveys from the 1940s up until today, complemented with figures that summarize the patterns, and short narrative descriptions of the key patterns and their interpretations.   


Racial inequality is a defining feature of cities and town throughout Illinois and the United States.  The purpose of this initiative is to provide evidence-based research on the causes and consequences of racial inequality and to provide direction for policymakers and the public to dismantle it.

Affiliated Experts

Professor, Department of Sociology

Maria Krysan focuses her research on racial residential segregation and racial attitudes. She is the primary author of Tracking Trends in Racial Attitudes, a website that compiles results of several national surveys that have been tracking Americans’ racial attitudes from as early as the 1940s. Professor Krysan's investigations of these substantive issues often connect to methodological questions about how to study this sensitive area of social life. She combines standard closed-ended survey analysis with mode of administration experiments, analyses of open-ended survey questions, focus groups, and in-depth interviews. In addition to an edited volume with Amanda Lewis, The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity, her most recent work has appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Science Research, Social Problems, and The DuBois Review. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Russell Sage Foundation, and Ford Foundation.  Her most recent work focuses on understanding the causes of residential segregation, particularly as viewed through the question of how people end up living where they do.