The effect of neighborhoods on persistent inequality between races

A new book by sociologist Patrick Sharkey highlights how neighborhood conditions contribute to persistent inequality by race:

Put more bluntly:

Even if a white and a black child are raised by parents who have similar jobs, similar levels of education, and similar aspirations for their children, the rigid segregation of urban neighborhoods means that the black child will be raised in a residential environment with higher poverty, fewer resources, poorer schools, and more violence than that of the white child.

This might not seem to make sense: education gains have been fairly substantial, so shouldn’t income and wealth follow? The problem is that whites are more likely to lock in gains over generations. Blacks are more likely to be in a higher income centile than their parents than whites (55/50), and less likely to be in a lower one (44/49). But they’re more likely to be in a lower incomeĀ quintile (53/41) and less likely to be in a higher income quintile (35/45). Whites are more likely to inch down and leap up the socioeconomic ladder; for blacks, vice versa.

By way of explanation, Sharkey points to the work of Northwestern sociologist Mary Pattillo on the black middle class: “When white families advance in economic status, they are able to translate this economic advantage into spacial advantage by buying into communities that provide quality schools and healthy environments for children. An extensive research literature demonstrates that African Americans are not able to translate economic resources into spacial advantage to the same degree.” In the real world, this is the reality for middle-class neighborhoods like Chatham, which struggle to maintain their economic and residential base while buffeted by violence creeping in from neighboring communities.

This research counters the idea that decreased educational differences necessarily leads to reduced wealth and spatial differences. There are other important factors at work, including the spatial context. Education is not a silver bullet that solves all of the issues related to poverty.

This would seem to line up with research on wealth differences between whites and blacks (see Black Wealth/White Wealth by Oliver and Shapiro). Even if blacks have made educational gains, wealth is partly generational. Wealth really helps with buying a home in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods that then offer better schools, environments, and social capital. And this homeownership gap is still large in the first quarter of 2013 (Table 16): 73.4% for whites, 43.1% for blacks, 45.3% for Hispanics, and 54.6% for all other races.

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