Stanford University Study Documents the Racial Gap in Neighborhood Affluence

Stanford-university-logoA new study by researchers at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University in California finds that Black families need much higher incomes than White families to live in comparably affluent neighborhoods. As a result, middle and upper-middle income Black families are more likely than Whites with similar incomes to live in poorer neighborhoods where city services are not as good, crime is higher, and schools are inferior.

The research found that Black families with an income of $50,000 live in a community where the average income is $42,579. Whites with an income of $50,000 live in a community where the average income is $53,000. Among Black and White households with incomes of $100,000, the neighborhood affluence gap is 20 percent.

The study, “Neighborhood Income Composition by Household Race and Income, 1990–2009,” was author by Sean Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford and doctoral students Lindsay Fox and Joseph Townsend. It appears in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and can be downloaded by clicking here.

Professor Reardon notes that “it’s relatively well known that Black families on average live in poorer neighborhoods, but a lot of people presume that’s simply because Black families are poorer. But if that were all there was to it, you would find poor Whites living in the same kinds of neighborhoods as poor Blacks. What we found, however, was that even Blacks who have the same household incomes as Whites live in poorer neighborhoods.”

While the study did not investigate why the neighborhood affluence gap exists, the authors pointed to other studies that found that factors such as racial discrimination in housing markets, the preference for people to live in neighborhoods where they is a majority of people of the same race, and the racial wealth gap may explain the discrepancy.

Dr. Reardon notes that the neighborhood affluence gap can have a major impact on Black children. “Growing up in a very poor neighborhood lowers children’s chances of going to college, lowers their earnings and increases the odds that they will become single parents,” he said. “When you look at the evidence of how important neighborhoods are, you really worry about the long-term consequences of these patterns of racial and economic segregation.”


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