, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 1203–1229 | Cite as

The Determinants of Neighborhood Satisfaction: Racial Proxy Revisited

  • Sapna Swaroop
  • Maria Krysan


Understanding the factors that drive individuals’ residential preferences is a critical issue in the study of racial segregation. An important debate within this field is whether individuals—especially whites—prefer to live in predominantly white neighborhoods because they wish to avoid the social problems that may be more likely to occur in predominantly black neighborhoods (i.e., the racial proxy hypothesis) or because of racial factors that go beyond these social class–related characteristics. Through a multilevel analysis of data from the 2004–2005 Chicago Area Study and several administrative sources, we assess the extent to which the racial proxy hypothesis describes neighborhood satisfaction among whites, African Americans, and Latinos living across a broad range of neighborhood contexts. The racial proxy perspective applies weakly to whites’ satisfaction: whites report less satisfaction in neighborhoods with more minority residents, and only some of their dissatisfaction can be attributed to local social characteristics. The racial proxy hypothesis applies more strongly to blacks’ and Latinos’ satisfaction. In some cases, especially for Latinos, higher levels of satisfaction in integrated neighborhoods can largely be attributed to the fact that these places have better socioeconomic conditions and fewer social problems than predominantly minority communities. At the same time, effects of racial/ethnic composition persist in unique and somewhat divergent ways for blacks and Latinos, supporting the assertion that racial composition matters, above and beyond its relation to social class. Taken together, these findings suggest that individuals balance both socioeconomic and race-related concerns in their residential preferences.


Segregation Residential preferences Neighborhood satisfaction 



The authors gratefully acknowledge Robert Adelman, Nancy Denton, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on this paper. In addition, the second author’s writing group colleagues—Tyrone Forman, Amanda Lewis, Omar McRoberts, and Beth Richie—provided invaluable assistance, feedback, and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. Support for data collection came from the National Science Foundation (SES-0317740), the University of Michigan, the Ford Foundation, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Data analysis was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1R03HD051677-01A1), as well as the Population Research Center at the University of Chicago. The article’s contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Invitation Health & Wellness, Inc.EaganUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Institute of Government and Public AffairsUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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