Socioeconomic Segregation in Large Cities in France and the United States


Past cross-national comparisons of socioeconomic segregation have been undercut by lack of comparability in measures, data, and concepts. Using IRIS data from the French Census of 2008 and the French Ministry of Finance as well as tract data from the American Community Survey (2006–2010) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Picture of Subsidized Households, and constructing measures to be as similar as possible, we compare socioeconomic segregation in metropolitan areas with a population of more than 1 million in France and the United States. We find much higher socioeconomic segregation in large metropolitan areas in the United States than in France. We also find (1) a strong pattern of low-income neighborhoods in central cities and high-income neighborhoods in suburbs in the United States, but varying patterns across metropolitan areas in France; (2) that high-income persons are the most segregated group in both countries; (3) that the shares of neighborhood income differences that can be explained by neighborhood racial/ethnic composition are similar in France and the United States; and (4) that government-assisted housing is disproportionately located in the poorest neighborhoods in the United States but is spread across many neighborhood income levels in France. We conclude that differences in government provision of housing assistance and levels of income inequality are likely important contributing factors to the Franco-U.S. difference in socioeconomic segregation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    François et al. (2011) provided a map-based analysis of neighborhood income in Paris but did not calculate indexes of segregation that could be used for comparisons. A handful of other French studies examined segregation for specific contexts or subgroups, such as Safi (2006, 2009) on immigrants and Pan Ké Shon (2009) on distressed neighborhoods.

  2. 2.

    Pinçon and Pinçon-Charlot (2005) discussed segregation of the bourgeoisie in France.

  3. 3.

    The only other study of socioeconomic segregation in France that we know of is Kruythoff and Baart (1998), who calculated indexes of spatial segregation between employed and unemployed persons for the city of Lille. This is too limited a basis in terms of both geographic coverage and comprehensiveness of the indicator to be highly useful for comparisons.

  4. 4.

    Of households in rental housing in the 2013 American Housing Survey, 6.6 % lived in public housing, 7.2 % received a housing voucher, 2.4 % received some other form of subsidy (HUD low-income housing tax credit unit or affordable housing resulting from local programs), and 1.8% lived in a rent-controlled unit (American Housing Survey 2013).

  5. 5.

    Tract and IRIS median incomes are directly available in the data for both countries. We draw metropolitan area median income from INSEE statistical reports for France and from U.S. Census Bureau metropolitan data files for the United States.

  6. 6.

    Our income segregation measures are lower than similar measures reported in Bischoff and Reardon (2014). We found the main reason for the difference to be that Bischoff and Reardon uses family income, whereas we use household income. Household income best matches the data for France. We find lower NSI measures for France than Vincent et al. (2015) reported. We found that their NSI measures are higher is because they use income at the consumption unit rather than the household level. We reproduced their statistics with data at the consumption unit level, but these statistics cannot be calculated for U.S. area data.

  7. 7.

    This is also the case in Bordeaux.

  8. 8.

    Overseas French citizens are persons who were born in French overseas areas, such as Martinique or Réunion, who are predominately black. We also tried including separate percentages for sub-Saharan and North African immigrants, which produced nearly identical results.

  9. 9.

    A limitation of this comparison is that the French Gini values are calculated at the consumption unit level, not the household level. Using national-level Gini values calculated for households in both countries leads to similar conclusions.

  10. 10.

    Reardon and Bischoff (2011) used pooled data from 1970 to 2000 and included metropolitan fixed effects. Their point estimate is a change in Gini from 0 to 1 increases income segregation by .467 of a point. Bischoff and Reardon (2014) used 2009 data and estimated a cross-sectional regression, finding that a change in Gini from 0 to 1 increases income segregation by .46.


  1. American Housing Survey. (2013). AHS table creator [Data file]. Retrieved from

  2. Atkinson, A. B., Piketty, T., & Saez, E. (2011). Top incomes in the long run of history. Journal of Economic Literature, 49, 3–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bischoff, K., & Reardon, S. F. (2014). Residential segregation by income, 1970–2009. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), Diversity and disparities (pp. 208–234). New York, NY: Russell Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Chetty, R., Hendren, N., & Katz, L. F. (2015). The effects of exposure to better neighborhoods on children: New evidence from the moving to opportunity experiment (Working Paper No. 21156). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

  5. Clapier, P., & Tabard, N. (1981). Transformation de la morphologie sociale des communes, et variation des consommation [Transformation of the social morphology of communities, and changes in consumption]. Consommation, 28(2), 3–40.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Duncan, O. D., & Duncan, B. (1955). Residential distribution and occupational stratification. American Journal of Sociology, 60, 493–503.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fischer, C. S., Stockmayer, G., Stiles, J., & Hout, M. (2004). Distinguishing the geographic levels and social dimensions of U.S. metropolitan segregation, 1960–2000. Demography, 41, 37–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. François, J.-C., Ribardière, A., Fleury, A., Mathian, H., Pavard, A., & Saint-Julien, T. (2011). La disparité des revenus des ménages franciliens, analyse de l’évolution entre 1999 et 2007 [Income inequality of Paris households: Analysis of changes from 1999 and 2007]. Retrieved from

  10. Glaeser, E. L., Kahn, M. E., & Rappaport, J. (2008). Why do the poor live in cities? Journal of Urban Economics, 63, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hamnett, C. (1996). Social polarization, economic restructuring and welfare state regimes. Urban Studies, 33, 1407–1430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Iceland, J., & Steinmetz, E. (2003). The effects of using census block groups instead of census tracts when examining residential housing patterns. Retrieved from

  13. INSEE. (2006). Enquête Logement en 2006, France metropolitaine [Housing Survey 2006, metropolitan France]. Retrieved from

  14. INSEE. (2013a). IRIS [Definition]. Retrieved from

  15. INSEE. (2013b). Unité urbaine [Definition]. Retrieved from

  16. INSEE. (2015). Une pauvreté très présente dans les centre villes des grands pôles urbains [A very present poverty in cities near major urban centers] (INSEE Première Report, No. 1552). Paris, France: Institute National de la Statistique et des Études Économique.

  17. INSEE-DGFiP. (2009). Indicateurs de distribution des revenus fiscaux déclarés par les ménages, année 2009 [Tax income distribution indicators reported by households, 2009] [Data Set].

  18. Jackson, K. T. (1985). Crabgrass frontier: The suburbanization of the United States. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. James, D. R., & Taeuber, K. (1985). Measures of segregation. Sociological Methodology, 14, 1–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Jargowsky, P. A. (1996). Take the money and run: Economic segregation in U.S. metropolitan areas. American Sociological Review, 61, 984–998.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Jargowsky, P. A. (1997). Poverty and place: Ghettos, barrios, and the American city. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jargowsky, P. A. (2014). Segregation, neighborhoods, and schools. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 97–136). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Johnson, N. L., Kotz, S., & Balakrishnan, N. (1994). Continuous univariate distributions (Vol. 1, 2nd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

  24. Kruythoff, H. M., & Baart, B. (1998). Towards undivided cities in Western Europe. New challenges for urban policy: Part 6 Lille. Delft, The Netherlands: Delft University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Kucheva, Y. A. (2013). Subsidized housing and the concentration of poverty, 1977–2008: A comparison of eight U.S. metropolitan areas. City & Community, 12, 113–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lagrange, H. (2010). Réussite scolaire et inconduites adolescentes: Origine culturelle, mixité et capital social [School success and adolescent misconduct: Cultural origin, diversity, and social capital]. Sociétés Contemporaines, 80, 73–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lapeyronnie, D. (2008). Ghetto urbain: Ségrégation, violence, pauvreté dans la France actuelle [Urban ghetto: Segregation, violence, and poverty in France today]. Paris, France: Robert Laffont.

  28. Le Blanc, D., Laferrère, A., & Pigois, R. (1999). Les effets de l’existence du parc HLM sur le profil de consommation des ménages [Effects of HLMs on household consumption]. Economie et Statistiques, 328, 37–60.

  29. Ludwig, J., Sanbonmatsu, L., Gennetian, L., Adam, E., Duncan, G. J., Katz, L. F., . . . McDade, T. W. (2011). Neighborhoods, obesity, and diabetes—A randomized social experiment. New England Journal of Medicine, 365, 1509–1519.

  30. Maloutas, T., & Fujita, K. (Eds.). (2012). Residential segregation in comparative perspective: Making sense of contextual diversity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Massey, D. S., & Eggers, M. L. (1993). The spatial concentration of affluence and poverty during the 1970s. Urban Affairs Quarterly, 29, 299–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Massey, D. S., & Kanaiaupuni, S. M. (1993). Public housing and the concentration of poverty. Social Science Quarterly, 74, 109–122.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Mayer, S. (2001). How the growth in income inequality increased economic segregation (JCPR Working Paper No. 230). Chicago, IL: Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.

  35. Minnesota Population Center. (2011). National historical geographic information system: Version 2.0 [Data set]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

  36. Musterd, S. (2005). Social and ethnic segregation in Europe: Levels, causes, and effects. Journal of Urban Affairs, 27, 331–348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Musterd, S., & Deurloo, R. (1997). Ethnic segregation and the role of public housing in Amsterdam. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 88, 158–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Musterd, S., & Ostendorf, W, (Eds.). (2011). Urban segregation and the welfare state: Inequality and exclusion in western cities (Reprint ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published 1998)

  39. National Geographic Society. (2012). Greendex 2012: Consumer choice and the environment, a national tracking survey. Toronto, Canada: GlobeScan, Inc.. Retrieved from

  40. Newman, S. J., & Schnare, A. B. (1997). “… And a suitable living environment”: The failure of housing programs to deliver on neighborhood quality. Housing Policy Debate, 8, 703–741.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Owens, A. (2015). Housing policy and urban inequality: Did the transformation of assisted housing reduce poverty concentration? Social Forces, 94, 325–348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Owens, A. (2016). Inequality in children’s contexts: Income segregation of households with and without children. American Sociological Review, 81, 549–574.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Pan Ké Shon, J.-P. (2009). Ségrégation ethnique et ségrégation sociale en quartiers sensibles [Ethnic segregation and social segregation in distressed neighborhoods]. Revue Française de Sociologie, 50, 451–487.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Pendall, R., Puentes, R., & Martin, J. (2006). From traditional to reformed: A review of the land use regulations in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas (Report). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from

  45. Peterson, R. D., & Krivo, L. J. (2010). Divergent social worlds: Neighborhood crime and the racial-spatial divide. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pinçon, M., & Pinçon-Charlot, M. (2005). Sociologie de la Bourgeoisie [Sociology of the Bourgeoisie] (3rd ed.). Paris, France: La Découverte.

  47. Préteceille, E. (2006). La ségrégation sociale a-t-elle augmenté? [Has social segregation increased?]. Sociétés Contemporaines, 62, 69–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Préteceille, E. (2011). Has ethno-racial segregation increased in the greater Paris metropolitan area? Revue Française de Sociologie, 52, 31–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Préteceille, E. (2012). Segregation, social mix, and public policies in Paris. In T. Maloutas & K. Fujita (Eds.), Residential segregation in comparative perspective: Making sense of contextual diversity (pp. 153–176). Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Quillian, L. (2003). The decline of male employment in low-income black neighborhoods, 1950–1990. Social Science Research, 32, 220–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Quillian, L. (2012). Segregation and poverty concentration the role of three segregations. American Sociological Review, 77, 354–379.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Quillian, L. (2014). Does segregation create winners and losers? Residential segregation and inequality in educational attainment. Social Problems, 61, 402–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Reardon, S. F., & Bischoff, K. (2011). Income inequality and income segregation. American Journal of Sociology, 116, 1092–1153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Reardon, S. F., Yun, J. T., & Eitle, T. M. (2000). The changing structure of school segregation: Measurement and evidence of multiracial metropolitan-area school segregation, 1989–1995. Demography, 37, 351–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Rhein, C. (1998). Globalisation, social change, and minorities in metropolitan Paris: The emergence of new class patterns. Urban Studies, 35, 429–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Safi, M. (2006). Le processus d’intégration des immigrés en France: inégalités et segmentation [The integration process of immigrants in France: Inequalities and segmentation]. Revue Française de Sociologie, 47, 3–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Safi, M. (2009). La dimension spatiale de l’intégration: évolution de la ségrégation des populations immigrées en France entre 1968 et 1999 [The spatial dimension of integration: Development of the segregation of immigrant populations in France between 1968 and 1999]. Revue Française de Sociologie, 209, 521–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Sassen, S. (1991). The global city: New York, London, Tokyo (1st ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Schnell, I., & Osendorf, W. (Eds.). (2002). Studies in segregation and desegregation. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Simkus, A. A. (1978). Residential segregation by occupation and race in ten urbanized areas, 1950–1970. American Sociological Review, 43, 81–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Taghavi, L. (2008). HUD-assisted housing 101: Using “A Picture of Subsidized Households: 2000.” Cityscape, 10(1), 211–220.

    Google Scholar 

  62. U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). U.S. neighborhood income inequality in the 2005–2009 period (American Community Survey Report, No. ACS-16). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

  63. U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). Metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas main [Data set]. Retrieved from

  64. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2012). A Picture of Subsidized Households 2008 [Data set]. Retrieved from

  65. Verdugo, G. (2011). Public housing and residential segregation of immigrants in France, 1968–1999. Population-E, 66, 169–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Vincent, P., Chantreuil, F., & Tarroux, B. (2015, June). Income segregation in large French cities. Paper presented at the Meetings of the French Economic Association, Rennes, France.

  67. Wacquant, L. (2007). French working-class bainlieus and black American ghetto: From conflation to comparison. Qui Parle?, 16, 5–38.

  68. Wagmiller, R. L. (2007). Race and the spatial segregation of jobless men in urban America. Demography, 44, 539–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Wodtke, G. T., Harding, D. J., & Elwert, F. (2011). Neighborhood effects in temporal perspective: The impact of long-term exposure to concentrated disadvantage on high school graduation. American Sociological Review, 76, 713–736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. World Bank. (2013). Indicators [Data Set]. Retrieved from

Download references


Work on this project was supported by a grant from the Partner University Fund of the FACE foundation and a residential fellowship from the Russell Sage Foundation to the first author. An earlier version of this article was presented at the IPR-OSC Conference in Paris, France, June 21–22, 2012, and at the meetings of the American Sociological Association in New York City, August 10–13, 2013.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lincoln Quillian.

Appendix: Measures and Methods for Income Segregation Statistics

Appendix: Measures and Methods for Income Segregation Statistics

NSI Calculation

NSI for a metropolitan area is defined as follows:

$$ NSI=\frac{\upsigma_N}{\upsigma_H}=\frac{\sqrt{\frac{{\displaystyle {\sum}_{n=1}^N{h}_n{\left({\overline{y}}_n-\overline{y}\right)}^2}}{H}}}{\sqrt{\frac{{\displaystyle {\sum}_{i=1}^H{\left({y}_i-\overline{y}\right)}^2}}{H}}}, $$

where H is the number of households in the metropolitan area, h n represents the number of households in the nth neighborhood, y represents income for the ith household, \( {\overline{y}}_n \) represents the average income for the nth neighborhood, and \( \overline{y} \) indicates metropolitan average income. The numerator may be calculated for both France and the United States directly from the French Ministry of Finance IRIS data and the ACS data, respectively. The denominator—the standard deviation of metropolitan household income—may be directly calculated from the IRIS data for France from summing within-IRIS deviation (provided in the data) and between-IRIS deviation (calculated from IRIS means). For the United States, we estimate the denominator from counts of numbers of households in 16 income ranges in each metropolitan area. We do this by assuming a lognormal distribution of income and then using a maximum likelihood estimation to estimate the variability of tract income for each metropolitan income from the data. In practice, this is done using Stata’s intreg command, estimating an intercept-only model of metropolitan income from tract income counts in categories, which also generates an estimate of the variability of income. We then calculate the mean and standard deviation of household income unlogged from the logged mean and standard deviation estimates produced by intreg using formulas from Johnson et al. (1994).

Theil’s Segregation Index, Income Percentile Segregation Calculations, and Reardon’s Rank-Ordered H

If p denotes income percentile ranks for an income distribution, for any value of p, we dichotomize the income distribution at p and compute the segregation between those with income ranks less than p and those with income ranks greater than or equal to p. If H(p) is Theil’s information theory index of segregation (see James and Taeuber 1985), and E(p) is the entropy statistic for p (used in the calculation of H(p)), then the rank-order information theory index (H R) is defined as follows:

$$ {H}^R=2 ln(2){\displaystyle {\int}_0^1E(p)}H(p)dp. $$

We calculate H(p) and H R using methods described in Reardon and Bischoff (2011:1110–1111, and appendix A).We also apply their method for making income percentile graphs developed with H(p) to the standard index of dissimilarity, which is a straightforward extension.

We initially perform standard computations of Theil’s entropy index of segregation (H(p)) and the index of dissimilarity (D(p)) for everyone below p and at or above p for each of the income cut points available in the two data sets.

In the U.S. data, counts of households are reported in 16 categories. For the French data, we have reports of income deciles, from which we calculated counts of households in 10 income categories. We also compute the percentile corresponding to each of these cut points on the income distribution from the data (p).

We then regress these calculated segregation indexes (H(p)) on the corresponding percentiles (p). Our specification uses a fourth-order quadratic for p to allow for nonlinearity. (We found very little predictive change from adding a fifth order term.) We use the resulting curve to predict the segregation scores for all percentiles of the income distribution from the 10th to the 90th percentile in the two countries. These are shown in the Figs. 1 and 2 for both entropy and the index of dissimilarity.

To compute the rank-ordered H R statistic, we apply Reardon and Bischoff’s (2011: appendix A) integral evaluation formula to the fourth-order quadratic coefficients. The formula evaluates the integral and also applies a set of weights, which weight percentiles of the income distribution toward the center of the income distribution more heavily and give little weight to percentiles at the extremes.

Table 9 Comparison of tract and block group segregation, United States

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Quillian, L., Lagrange, H. Socioeconomic Segregation in Large Cities in France and the United States. Demography 53, 1051–1084 (2016).

Download citation


  • Segregation
  • Income segregation
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Franco-U.S. comparisons
  • Urban demography