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The Residential Preferences of Blacks: Do They Explain Persistent Segregation?

Publication Abstract

Farley, Reynolds, and Maria Krysan. 2002. "The Residential Preferences of Blacks: Do They Explain Persistent Segregation?" Social Forces, 80(3): 937-980.

For many decades, it has been argued that the U.S. remains racially segregated because of discrimination in the real-estate market reflecting whites' desire to isolate themselves from African Americans. The merely modest declines in black-white segregation since the prohibition of such discrimination in 1968 have provoked a competing hypothesis: residential segregation persists because blacks prefer to live in racially isolated neighborhoods and are reluctant to live in largely white areas. These ideas have not been subject to empirical scrutiny. We use open- and closed-ended survey data from more than 2,000 African Americans in the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality to examine blacks' preferences and the important related issue of what drives those preferences. We find that African Americans overwhelmingly prefer 50-50 areas, a density far too high for most whites - but their preferences are driven not by solidarity or neutral ethnocentrism but by fears of white hostility. Moreover, almost all blacks are willing to move into largely white areas if there is a visible black presence. White preferences also play a key role, since whites are reluctant to move into neighborhoods with more than a few African Americans.

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