Residential Segregation

Residential Segregation

Residential segregation refers to the physical separation of two groups based on residence and housing Schaeffer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. page 28] , or a form of segregation that "sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes the living environment at the neighborhood level." [Kawachi, Ichiro and Lisa F. Berkman. Neighborhoods and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. page 265.]

Most commonly seen in the United States is a dominant/majority group (whites) imposing segregation on a subordinate/minority group (African-Americans). It is a fact that “blacks traditionally experience severe prejudice and discrimination in urban housing markets” and they “tend to live in systematically disadvantaged neighborhoods.” [Gallagher. Charles A. Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity. 3rd ed. Bostion: McGraw-Hill, 2007. page 225] Moreover, this ongoing segregation has lasting effects on African-American families and their ability to buy and sell homes. Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. page 108.] . This systematic diadvantage is an example of institutionalized discrimination.

Why residential segregation?

Residential segregation can result from what is known as institutional discrimination, or the “denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals and groups that results from the normal operations of society.” [Schaeffer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. page 92] The collaboration between institutional discrimination and residential segregation has inadvertently created a dual housing market which is widely received because of sizable literature tracking and documentation by researchers. This dual housing market is one “segregated by race, where African Americans suffer limited housing selections as a result of institutional and overt discrimination.” Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. page 39.] Due to an assortment of practices, such as real estate agents exercising overt discrimination and lending institutions performing institutional discrimination, the dual housing market that disadvantages African-Americans is maintained, perpetuated, and often augmented at the expense of equal treatment for the minority group. [Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. page 39-40.]

Intertwined Modes of Discrimination

Residential segregation which tend to advantage whites at the expense of African Americans in the U.S. is manifested in two intertwined modes of discrimination: redlining and steering.


Redlining, as institutional discrimination, can be summed up as “the pattern of discrimination against people trying to buy homes in minority and racially changing neighborhoods.” [Schaeffer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. page 104.] As a practice, however, redlining can be revealed in several different ways which all legally segregate whites from African Americans and other ethnic and minority groups.

Redlining originally comes from loaners actually marking certain neighborhoods red on “appraisal maps,” meaning these neighborhoods were ineligible because there were too many black families living there already. Schwalbe, Michael. Rigging the Game: How Inequality is Reproduced in Everyday Life. New York: Oxford University press, 2008. page 73. ] In this example, redlining was simply a term to refer to the practice of discrimination in mortgage lending. Furthermore, redlining was utilized by banks where they procedurally “code…neighborhoods ‘red’—the lowest possible rating—on their loan evaluations, thereby making it next to impossible to get a mortgage for a home” in districts where real estate agents wanted to maintain the racial make-up of white communities. Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkely: University of California Press, 1999. page 6. ] Lastly, by using redlining, banks and mortgage lenders do not make loans available to minority and ethnic groups. Inevitably, there is a decline in the frequency of loans and the amount of loan money made available to minorities; less encouragement of accepting minority loan applications and “marketing policies that exclude such minority areas.” Elevated mortgage costs and less desirable terms on loans result from the weakening competition in the mortgage market, along with a reduction in finance options for purchasing homes for borrowers in minority neighborhoods.


In conjunction with redlining comes the overt discrimination mentioned above in the form of steering. This is an occurrence "in which agents do not disclose properties on the market to qualified African-American home seekers" and steer them to neighborhoods that have a similar racial make-up as the home seeker. They are especially steered away from predominantly white communities.

Why redlining and steering?

In essence, a reasoning behind redlining and steering is “white neighborhoods… [are] supposed to stay white” and retain a predominantly white racial make-up. This is a way in which the dominant race can have an advantage over other minority groups and preserve their privilege and superiority. According to Conley, “black housing may be worth less because the majority group (whites) controls the market” and inherently “segregation is in this group’s interest” to preserve this control. Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkely: University of California Press, 1999. page 38.]

White flight

In order for whites to maintain the aforementioned sense of control as a majority group, they engage in the phenomenon known as white flight. White flight is justified systematically in a way by its participants in order to not feel guilty and maintain power and control as a majority group in the housing market. Some justifications include “declining property values, deteriorating schools, and fear of crime.” [Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. page 122.]

White flight from communities that become more integrated has been on going since the 1960s, even after fair housing laws were passed. It is characterized as a dynamic process that usually occurs when “the percentage of black residents in a community reaches a certain level (roughly 20 percent) and white homeowners begin to fear their property values will drop.” White homeowners and their families move to a new neighborhood and community that has a smaller proportion of blacks in order to preserve a higher value on their property in the neighborhood.

Reasons for White Flight

The reason why this occurs can be attributed to a “self fulfilling prophecy” because “whites create a vacuum in the market” and believe that there will be a drop in value once other racial groups enter into the community. Basically, homeowners sustain their “racist residential ideology [ies] ” by moving out of the neighborhood for economic reasons, which in turn links their ideologies to the economics of the housing market. As more white families move out, the neighborhood becomes predominantly African-American (or another racial minority) and redlining and steering in turn force minority groups into these neighborhoods. As a result, property values continue to decrease and the neighborhood becomes less and less racially integrated, which persistently reinforces residential segregation between races.

Effects of residential segregation on the housing market

Ascertained by Massey and Denton, “the effect of segregation on black well-being is structural” and institutionalized by the way in which society operates and not due to individual-level prejudices and discrimination; “residential segregation,” as stated before, institutionally and “systematically undermines the social and economic well-being of blacks in the United States.”Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkely: University of California Press, 1999. page 40.] Moreover, “forced to buy housing in black neighborhoods because of racial discrimination or lower housing prices, the black middle class actually falls farther behind” their white counterparts “in the search for true economic security” and racial integration. [Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red. Berkely: University of California Press, 1999. page 144.] And unfortunately, extended exposure severely diminishes chances of social and economic success for blacks. This can be seen when looking at the value of housing in mixed neighborhoods, which tends to have an increase of value much lower than “similar units in predominately white neighborhoods.” Accordingly enough, individuals who do manage to purchase a home in these racially mixed neighborhoods see that their house is actually worth less than a comparable house in a predominately white neighborhood.

Societal consequences

As a result of lower values on houses, redlining, steering, and white flight, residential segregation can invariably lead to social consequences for the minority group, and these consequences are rather significant and easily seen by members of the population, either directly or indirectly.

As integration of minority groups decreases because of redlining and steering, and white flight ensues, minority groups are consistently grouped together in enclaves and ghettos. Because elevated rates of poverty are more often experienced by racial and ethnic minorities, these patterns of segregation and the consequences of poverty seen in the housing market are more likely to be seen by middle class minorities as opposed to middle class whites. Schaeffer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. page 29] Also, the clustering and formation of residential ethnic/racial ghettos and enclaves, which group minorities together, further perpetuates the harmful social problems affecting minorities. Some of the negative results include “dismal job opportunities, poor health care facilities, delinquency, and crime." There can be a prevalence of unintentional or intential racism within these minority communities, which is termed environmental racism. Furthermore, racial residential segregation procreates a “social environment” in which urban blacks experience a norm of poverty and lack of jobs, children born out of wedlock, many families on welfare, ongoing educational failure, and urban decay


Although it is not always connected to race and can sometimes be generalized by class, gentrification or urban renewal is another form of residential segregation. Gentrification has historically been defined as higher income newcomers displacing lower income residents from up-and-coming urban neighborhoods. The concept has been understood as reflecting the residential turnover of an area that was predominantly composed of residents of color, to one populated by higher income whites. Yet definitions of gentrification fail to mention this racial component. Critical race theory is used to examine race as an implicit assumption that merits investigation as demographic changes in the U.S. challenge these class-based definitions. Martinez-Cosio,Maria. "Coloring housing changes: Reintroducing race into gentrification" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, TBA, New York, New York City, Aug 11, 2007.]


ee also

* Housing Segregation
* Discrimination
* Institutional discrimination
* Steering
* Redlining
* Blockbusting
* Hypersegregation
* Racial segregation
* Spatial mismatch
* Urban decay
* Economic restructuring
* Social exclusion
* Mortgage discrimination
* Ghetto
* Socioeconomic status

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