Moving into a new neighborhood doesn’t always come down to what the houses look like or how much they will cost. For hundreds of white respondents in a recent study, race matters too.
Randomly-selected white adults from the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas were shown videos of identical neighborhoods and asked to evaluate items such as the cost of housing and the quality of area schools. While the neighborhoods in the videos were identical, the residents were not. Some respondents were shown black residents while others saw white residents, or a mixture of both, in the same neighborhood.
According to the research released in November, whites who saw white residents in the video rated the neighborhood more favorably than whites who saw black residents in the same area. The study was co-authored by Maria Krysan, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Reynolds Farley, a research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. This latest research grew out of dissatisfaction with earlier studies exploring the same subject, said Krysan.
She explained previous studies only had people imagine neighborhoods and racial compositions, and were then asked questions about it.
“We thought that wasn’t a good way to do it. We showed people actual videos,” Krysan said. “When you can see a neighborhood, it’s not as blatant as a question would be about race. Today, race is a sensitive topic. It’s difficult to get people’s attitudes more specifically.”
Krysan added she wasn’t surprised by the results of their new study.
“If you have a situation where whites are living in a neighborhood and then blacks move in, [whites] may have stereotypes of what may happen to that neighborhood and might cause them to leave. That’s called white flight,” she said. “It was certainly prevalent and most visible in the 1970s. The other dynamic is when whites make decisions to move because they got a new job, for example-that they choose the white neighborhoods.”
Farley added that some whites have a negative perception of blacks historically, which is a factor when they evaluate neighborhoods.
“Whites tend to think that in neighborhoods where blacks live, property values don’t go up, crime might be more frequent, [and] the schools may not be very good,” he said.
“It’s complicated,” added Krysan. “It’s part of the story of race in America that we haven’t gotten past. There are still stereotypes that whites hold about these groups, but also about the neighborhoods where they live.”
Their study also included responses from blacks and Latinos, but that data is still being analyzed. Krysan said it became too complicated to include those results in the same paper, but added race did matter for the other groups. As to reasons why, it’s different for blacks than whites, she noted, plus a historical context is needed.
“Race made a difference to blacks, but it mattered considerably less than whites,” added Farley. “Blacks preferred neighborhoods with black residents and pretty expensive homes, but it was less salient a factor in their evaluations.”
As for how to make neighborhoods more racially diverse, Krysan stressed that additional policies and programs are required to overcome barriers to integration. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center is one noteworthy example, she said.
“Part of what they do is break down the stereotypes people may have about living in Oak Park. These are the types of affirmative marketing programs that are needed today.”
Age-based color lines are also not drawn as firmly now as they were decades ago, added Farley, as such lines seem to be slowly disappearing but not altogether vanishing. Detroit, he noted, for example, is still seen by many as a crime-ridden and troubled city, but there are about two-dozen very attractive and racially-mixed neighborhoods that people know very little about.
“You have to do the work that gets a wider array of people, both white and black, to consider these types of neighborhoods. That’s the first step.” he said.