Community Resources in a Diverse City: Supermarket Location and Emerging Racial Hierarchies

Abstract

Disparities are pronounced along racial/ethnic lines in the USA. Convention draws our attention to blacks and whites, but increased racial/ethnic diversity in the USA requires shifts in that focus. We contribute to studies of racial/ethnic stratification by interrogating the association between racial/ethnic composition and supermarket location in Houston, Texas. First, we assess the benefits of a new approach to defining the racial/ethnic composition of local areas, an approach that acknowledges an increasingly complex racial/ethnic demography. Second, we contribute to our understanding of emerging racial/ethnic stratification hierarchies by examining the position of the racial/ethnic composition categories relative to one another. Our results suggest a persistent link between racial/ethnic composition and supermarket location, which highlights entrenched black disadvantage coupled with malleable middle positions for Hispanic areas. The associated stratification hierarchy is gradual in nature, yet there is evidence supporting arguments that the USA is moving toward a tri-racial system.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Consistent with our understanding of how edge effects operate, excluding these observations does not affect analyses that rely on a measure of supermarket presence within a geography, but does affect the results from models that employ a distance approach (e.g., using a half mile and mile distance threshold).

  2. 2.

    Theoretically, a supermarket within the block group could be more than half of a mile away from the center of the block group if the block group were large enough. However, there are only 45 block groups in our final analysis that are in obvious danger of this concern (i.e., block groups that are larger than 1 square mile). And of those 45 block groups, only 6 have a supermarket within the block group. Excluding these block groups does not substantively change our results—all coefficients are nearly identical to what is reported in the final model with the exception of the majority Hispanic–Asian coefficient, which is closer to 1 in this sensitivity analysis. This change does not alter our substantive conclusions; rather, it strengthens them.

  3. 3.

    We also considered access to major roads and highways, but access is comprehensive enough within the city to severely limit the utility of such a measure—93% of block groups intersect with major roads.

  4. 4.

    One block group had a value of zero for the number of housing units, which resulted in a missing value after taking the natural log. We replaced the missing value with the natural log of one to avoid losing the observation. This change does not affect our results.

  5. 5.

    Ideally, we would be able to test and adjust for residual spatial autocorrelation given our use of spatially contiguous units of analysis. Unfortunately, generalized code or programs tailored to logistic regression are not yet available for such spatially informed methods. In an alternative robustness check, we use a 50% random sample of the block groups in our analysis to reduce the effects of neighbor similarity on our coefficient estimates. Changes primarily reflect increases in the level of coefficient significance. Thus, this sensitivity analysis bolsters the conclusions reported in the text. The one exception is that the direction of intersection density’s relationship flips between the two approaches—based on this analysis, it is unclear how intersection density is related to supermarket location net of retail density, if at all.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the support that we received through the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice University. We would also like to thank Jim Elliott for his comments on an earlier draft of this work.

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Correspondence to Heather A. O’Connell.

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O’Connell, H.A., King, L. & Bratter, J.L. Community Resources in a Diverse City: Supermarket Location and Emerging Racial Hierarchies. Race Soc Probl 8, 281–295 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-016-9184-7

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Keywords

  • Spatial inequality
  • Racial/ethnic composition
  • Hierarchies
  • Social stratification
  • Supermarkets