National Institute on Aging

University of Washington Scholar Maps Urban Sprawl and White Flight

A new study by Lee Florio, a graduate student at the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the University of Washington, finds that as U.S. metropolitan areas have grown between 1990 and 2010, all racial and ethnic groups have tended to move away from city centers. But the data shows that Blacks have tended to migrate to inner-ring suburbs whereas Whites have moved to the outskirts of the metropolitan areas further away from the center city.

Florio examined the racial and ethnic makeup of 52 metropolitan areas by census tract and geographic distance from the city center. He found that in all but three of the 52 metropolitan areas the average person — of any race or ethnicity — lived farther from the city center in 2010 than in 1990. During this period, each of the four major racial and ethnic groups moved, to some degree, away from the city center, but Blacks remained closest, and Whites moved farthest.

“While the U.S. has become more diverse, and there are fewer hypersegregated neighborhoods, there is still a racial dynamic to sprawl — one in which the new suburbs on the periphery of cities tend to be generally White,” Florio reports.


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