Moving into a new neighborhood doesn't always come down to what the houses look like or how much they will cost. For hundreds of white respondents in a recent study, race matters too.
Randomly selected white adults from the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas were shown videos of identical neighborhoods and asked to evaluate items such as the cost of housing and the quality of area schools.
While the neighborhoods in the videos were identical, the residents were not. Some respondents saw neighborhoods with black residents, others saw the same neighborhoods with white residents or a mixture of both.
According to the research released in November, whites who saw white residents in the video rated the neighborhood more favorably than whites who saw black residents in the same neighborhood.
The study was co-authored by Maria Krysan, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Reynolds Farley, a research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.
Krysan and Farley provide insight below on the study’s findings.
What is new about this study on residential segregation?
Krysan: We showed people actual videos. This grew out of a dissatisfaction of earlier studies, where people had to imagine neighborhoods and racial compositions, and then we’d ask them questions about it. We thought that wasn’t a good way to do it. When you can see a neighborhood, it’s not as blatant as a question would be about race. Today, race is a sensitive topic. It’s difficult to get people’s attitudes more specifically.
Were the results surprising or consistent with your previous research?
Krysan: I can’t say that I was surprised by the results. If you have a situation where whites are living in a neighborhood and then blacks move in, [whites] may have stereotypes of what may happen to that neighborhood and might cause them to leave. That’s called white flight. It was certainly prevalent and most visible in the 1970s. The other dynamic is when whites make decisions to move because they got a new job, for example, that they choose the white neighborhoods.
This study shows that race is still a significant factor in how whites evaluate neighborhoods. What factors contribute to whites’ perceptions?
Farley: There’s a history in the U.S. of negative stereotypes about black people. Whites tend to think that in neighborhoods where blacks live, property values don’t go up, crime might be more frequent, the schools may not be very good.
Krysan: It’s complicated. It’s part of the story of race in America that we haven’t gotten past. There are still stereotypes that whites hold about these groups, but also about the neighborhoods where they live. The study that was just released analyzes the responses of white adults. Were similar responses taken from black adults and what were the results?
Krysan: Our survey included African-Americans and Latinos, but that data hasn’t been fully analyzed yet. It got too complicated to try to put those results in the same paper. Race did matter for the other groups. But the reasons race matters for African-Americans is different than it is for whites and we want to provide historical context.
Farley: Race made a difference to blacks, but it mattered considerably less than whites. Blacks preferred neighborhoods with black residents and pretty expensive homes, but it was less salient a factor in their evaluations.
What will help neighborhoods become more racially diverse?
Krysan: We need more policies and programs that try to overcome these barriers to integration. Places like the [Oak ParkRegionalHousingCenter] is probably the most noteworthy example. Part of what they do is break down the stereotypes people may have about living in Oak Park. These are the types of affirmative marketing programs that are needed today.
Farley: The color lines are not drawn as firmly now as they were 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It seems to be going away, but it’s not going to disappear in the next 10 or 15 years. I give a lot of tours in Detroit, which many assume is a crime-ridden and troubled city. But there are about two dozen very attractive and racially mixed neighborhoods that people know very little about. You have to do the work that gets a wider array of people, both white and black, to consider these types of neighborhoods. That’s the first step.