What's race got to do with it? An in-depth analysis of neighborhood preferences and residential segregation
Meyerhoffer, Cassi Ann
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This dissertation examines racial residential preferences in U.S. metropolitan areas. I use a qualitative, comparative approach to examine the significance of race, social class, culture, and immigration status for people's expression of neighborhood preferences. I conducted in-depth interviews with 33 whites, 22 blacks, and 10 Hispanics in two cities: Ogden, Utah, where concern about Mexican immigration is a hot-button issue; and Buffalo, New York, a city where black segregation from whites is one of the highest in the United States. In Chapter 1, I introduce my overall dissertation topic, the relevant literature, and the methods used in my research. In Chapter 2, I explore several prominent explanations for neighborhood preferences: pure race, racial proxy, race-associated neighborhood factors, and neutral ethnocentrism. As an extension of the race-associated neighborhood factors argument, I argue that none of the conventional explanations alone offers as much analytic leverage as the neighborhood racial associational framework I develop. My work contributes to the literature by examining the link between the racial composition of a neighborhood and the assumptions people assume about neighborhood characteristics, regardless of the socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhood. Chapter 3 explores the group threat hypothesis, which states that the larger the minority group size, the more threatened whites will feel by the group. In both of my study cities — one with a large Hispanic population and one with a large black population — I find that whites, generally, react more negatively to Hispanics as neighbors than they do toward African Americans. Because of this, I emphasize the necessary consideration of not only race, but also the presumed immigration status of Hispanic residents and how that contributes to whites' perceptions of them as neighbors. Few studies emphasize how whites' perceptions reflect not just race but also cultural ideologies of what it means to "belong" in America. Whites react negatively toward Hispanics for cultural or nationalist reasons, but react negatively toward blacks primarily because of racial threat-like reasons. In Chapter 4, I examine how the use of different methodological approaches to measuring residents' expressed preferences influences their neighborhood preferences. I used maps of real neighborhoods for respondents' cities as well as hypothetical neighborhood showcards to assess expressed preferences. One of the most important findings of this paper is that, overall, upper-income whites were the least consistent in their real versus hypothetical responses. This suggests that upper-class whites may be more apt to give socially desirable responses when talking about race, and that it may be necessary to use several methodological approaches when interviewing respondents about their preferences for the racial composition of their neighborhoods. In Chapter 5 I summarize my contributions to the literature and offer my conclusions about neighborhood preferences and residential segregation.