Racial residential segregation and the housing search process

December 3, 2015

Racial residential segregation and the housing search process


A new study on the housing search process adds to a growing body of research questioning the myth that racial minorities self-segregate.  A 2004-2005 survey of residents of the Chicago area touched on a variety of topics related to neighborhoods, preferences, and housing searches. The results revealed that whites, blacks and Latinos all prefer to live in diverse neighborhoods in which their group is the largest, but not the majority. Yet no group ends up doing so.

Although whites who had searched in the last 10 years report wanting to live in a diverse neighborhood, they search in places that are on average 68 percent white. Their current neighborhoods reflect their search patterns: the average white searcher lives in a neighborhood that is 74 percent white.

In contrast, black and Latino residents search in areas that match their desired, diverse neighborhood. However, they end up living in neighborhoods with more residents of their own group than they say they prefer. Blacks in the study searched in neighborhoods that are 40 percent black, but end up in neighborhoods that are 66 percent black. Latinos search in neighborhoods that are 32 percent Latino, but end up in neighborhoods that are 51 percent Latino.

The researchers ask: what happens between the search and the move that results in blacks and Latinos living in less diverse neighborhoods than they desire and in which they search?

Possible explanations are that there is a lack of information or inadequate finances, but neither can fully account for the mismatch. Respondents—whites in particular—may also have been answering the survey in ways they perceived to be socially desirable.  This does not explain the mismatch for blacks and Latinos because their search locations match their preferred neighborhood.  The researchers suggest that it might be that blacks and Latinos search in diverse communities, and learn something about the neighborhood that makes it undesirable. Or, they may experience hostility or discrimination when searching, which creates barriers that impede them from translating their attitudes into actions.

“There are communities across the nation that want to foster inclusiveness,” author Maria Krysan said. “There is an interest in living in diverse neighborhoods but realizing those preferences meets with barriers at different stages.  Policy can play a role in breaking down the stubborn pattern of segregation that continues to persist—despite changing attitudes and preferences—by trying to fix these mismatches.” 


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Research Area: none

Policy Initiative: none