NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Racial Separation in America's Neighborhoods, 1890-2010

February 1, 2012

Following every census enumeration since 1890, the Census Bureau has released neighborhood-level data on race.  A new report by Edward Glaeser, senior fellow, and Jacob Vigdor, adjunct fellow, at the Manhattan Institute presents an analysis of the data from 13 consecutive census administrations on the long-run path of racial segregation across American cities.

The main findings include:

  • The most standard segregation measure shows that American cities are now more integrated than they've been since 1910. Segregation rose dramatically with black migration to cities in the mid-20th century. On average, this rise has been entirely erased by integration since the 1960s.
  • All-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. A half-century ago, one-fifth of America's urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents. Today, black residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.
  • Gentrification and immigration have made a dent in segregation. While these phenomena are clearly important in some areas, the rise of black suburbanization explains much more of the decline in segregation.
  • Ghetto neighborhoods persist, but most are in decline. For every diversifying ghetto neighborhood, many more house a dwindling population of black residents.

The decline in segregation carries with it several lessons relevant to public policy debates:

  • The end of segregation has not caused the end of racial inequality. Only a few decades ago, conventional wisdom held that segregation was the driving force behind socioeconomic inequality. The persistence of inequality, even as segregation has receded, suggests that inequality is a far more complex phenomenon.
  • Access to credit has fostered mobility. At a time when proposed regulations threaten to eliminate the market for lending to marginal borrowers, it is important to recognize that there are costs and benefits associated with tightening credit standards.
  • The freedom to choose one's location has helped reduce segregation. Segregation has declined in part because black Americans left older, more segregated, cities and moved to less segregated Sun Belt cities and suburbs.

Source: Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, "The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America's Neighborhoods, 1890-2010," Manhattan Institute, January 2012.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues