Skip to main content

National estimates of racial segregation in rural and small-town America

Abstract

The objective of this paper is to provide, for the first time, comparative estimates of racial residential segregation of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in nonmetropolitan and metropolitan places in 1990 and 2000. Analyses are based on block data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. decennial censuses. The results reveal a singularly important and perhaps surprising central conclusion: levels and trends in recent patterns of racial segregation in America’s small towns are remarkably similar to patterns observed in larger metropolitan cities. Like their big-city counterparts, nonmetropolitan blacks are America’s most highly segregated racial minority—roughly 30% to 40% higher than the indices observed for Hispanics and Native Americans. Finally, baseline ecological models of spatial patterns of rural segregation reveal estimates that largely support the conclusions reached in previous metropolitan studies. Racial residential segregation in rural places increases with growing minority percentage shares and is typically lower in “new” places (as measured by growth in the housing stock), while racially selective annexation and the implied “racial threat” at the periphery exacerbate racial segregation in rural places. Our study reinforces the need to broaden the spatial scale of segregation beyond its traditional focus on metropolitan cities or suburban places, especially as America’s population shifts down the urban hierarchy into exurban places and small towns.

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

References

  • Aiken, C.S. 1985. “New Settlement Patterns of Rural Blacks in the American South.” Geographical Review 75:383–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • . 1987. “Race as a Factor in Municipal Underbounding.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77:564–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Alba, R.D., J.R. Logan, and B.J. Stults. 2000. “How Segregated are Middle-Class African Americans?” Social Problems 47:543–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Alba, R.D., J.R. Logan, B.J. Stults, G. Marzan, and W.Q. Zhang. 1999. “Immigrant Groups in the Suburbs: A Reexamination of Suburbanization and Spatial Assimilation.” American Sociological Review 64:446–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, D.L. and L. Swanson, eds. 2004. Challenges for Rural America in the 21st Century. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, L.A., and S.Y. Chung. 2006. “Spatial Segregation, Segregation Indices and the Geographical Perspective.” Population, Space, and Place 12:125–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carter, J.S., L.C. Steelman, L.M. Mulkey, and C. Borch. 2005. “Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Effects of Urban and Regional Residence on Principle and Implementation Measures of Racial Tolerance.” Social Science Research 34:408–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Charles, C.Z. 2003. “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation.” Annual Review of Sociology 29:167–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clark, W.A.V. 2006. “Race, Class, and Space: Outcomes of Suburban Access for Asians and Hispanics.” Urban Geography 27:489–506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cromartie, J.B. and C.L. Beale. 1996. “Increasing Black-White Separation in the Plantation South.” Pp. 54–64 in Racial/Ethnic Minorities in Rural Areas: Progress and Stagnation, 1980–90, edited by L.L. Swanson. Agricultural Economic Report No. 731. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crowley, M., D.T. Lichter, and Z. Qian. 2006. “Beyond Gateway Cities: Economic Restructuring and Poverty Among Mexican Immigrant Families and Children.” Family Relations 55:345–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duncan, C.M. 1999. Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Durand, J., D.S. Massey, and C. Capoferro. 2005. “The New Geography of Mexican Immigration.” Pp. 1–20 in New Destinations: Mexican Immigration in the United States, edited by V. Zúñiga and R. Hernández-León. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Economic Research Service. 2006. Measuring Rurality: 1989 County Typology Codes. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture. Available online at http://www.ers.usda.gov/ Brie_ ng/Rurality/Typology/Typology1989/

    Google Scholar 

  • Farley, R. and W.H. Frey. 1994. “Changes in the Segregation of Whites From Blacks During the 1980s: Small Steps Toward a More Integrated Society.” American Sociological Review 59:23–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, C.S., G. Stockmayer, J. Stiles, and M. Hout. 2004. “Distinguishing the Geographic Levels and Social Dimensions of U.S. Metropolitan Segregation.” Demography 41:37–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, M. 2003. “The Relative Importance of Income and Race in Determining Residential Outcomes in U.S. Urban Areas, 1970–2000.” Urban Affairs Review 38:669–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fong, E. and K. Shibuya. 2005. “Multiethnic Cities in North America.” Annual Review of Sociology 31:285–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Griffith, D.C. 2005. “Rural Industry and Mexican Immigration and Settlement in North Carolina.” Pp. 50–75 in New Destinations: Mexican Immigration in the United States, edited by V. Zúñiga and R. Hernández-León. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hwang, S.S. and S.H. Murdock. 1983. “Segregation in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Texas in 1980.” Rural Sociology 48:607–23.

    Google Scholar 

  • Iceland, J., C. Sharpe, and E. Steinmetz. 2005. “Class Differences in African American Residential Patterns in U.S. Metropolitan Areas: 1990–2000.” Social Science Research 34:252–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iceland, J., D.H. Weinberg, and E. Steinmetz. 2002. Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980–2000. U.S. Census Bureau, Census Special Report, CENSR-3. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • Iceland, J.C. and R. Wilkes. 2006. “Does Socioeconomic Status Matter? Race, Class, and Residential Segregation.” Social Problems 53:248–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J.H., Jr., A. Parnell, M. Joyner, C.J. Christman, and B. Marsh. 2004. “Racial Apartheid in a Small North Carolina Town.” Review of Black Political Economy 31:89–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kandel, W. and J. Cromartie. 2004. “New Patterns of Hispanic Settlement in Rural America.” Rural Development Research Report No. 99. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Washington, DC.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kandel, W. and E. Parrado. 2005. “Restructuring of the U.S. Meat Processing Industry and New Hispanic Migrant Destinations.” Population and Development Review 31:447–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lichter, D.T. 1985. “Racial Concentration and Segregation Across U.S. Counties, 1950–1980.” Demography 22:603–609.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lichter, D.T., G.V. Fuguitt, and T.B. Heaton. 1985. “Racial Differences in Nonmetropolitan Population Deconcentration.” Social Forces 64:487–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lichter, D.T. and T.B. Heaton. 1986. “Black Concentration and Change in the Nonmetropolitan South.” Rural Sociology 51:343–53.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lichter, D.T. and K.M. Johnson. 2006. “Emerging Rural Settlement Patterns and the Geographic Redistribution of America’s New Immigrants.” Rural Sociology 71:109–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • . 2007. “The Changing Spatial Concentration of America’s Rural Poor Population.” Rural Sociology 72:331–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lichter, D.T., D. Parisi, S.M. Grice, and M. Taquino. 2007. “Municipal Underbounding: Annexation and Racial Exclusion in Small Southern Towns.” Rural Sociology 72:47–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loewen, J.W. 2005. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York: The New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Logan, J.R., B.J. Stults, and R. Farley. 2004. “Segregation of Minorities in the Metropolis: Two Decades of Change.” Demography 41:1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Massey, D.S. and N.A. Denton. 1989. “Hypersegregation in United States Metropolitan Areas: Black and Hispanic Segregation Along 5 Dimensions.” Demography 26:373–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Murdock, S.H., S.S. Hwang, and M.N. Hoque. 1994. “Nonmetropolitan Residential Segregation Revised.” Rural Sociology 59:236–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parisi, D., D.K. McLaughlin, S.M. Grice, and M. Taquino. 2006. “Exiting TANF: Individual and Local Factors and Their Differential Influence Across Racial Groups.” Social Science Quarterly 87:76–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reardon, S.F., S.A. Matthews, D. O’Sullivan, B.A. Lee, G. Firebaugh, and C.R. Farrell. 2006. “The Segregation Profile: Investigating How Metropolitan Racial Segregation Varies by Spatial Scale.” Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, March 30–April 1.

  • Reardon, S.F. and D. O’Sullivan. 2004. “Measures of Spatial Segregation.” Sociological Methodology 34:121–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saenz, R. and C.C. Torres. 2004. “Latinos in Rural America.” Pp. 57–72 in Challenges to Rural America in the Twenty-First Century, edited by D.L. Brown and L.E. Swanson. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Slack, T. and L. Jensen. 2002. “Race, Ethnicity, and Underemployment in Nonmetropolitan America: A 30-Year Profile.” Rural Sociology 67:208–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snipp, C.M. 1996. “Understanding Race and Ethnicity in Rural America.” Rural Sociology 61: 125–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • South, S.J., K. Crowder, and E. Chavez. 2005. “Geographic Mobility and Spatial Assimilation Among U.S. Latino Immigrants.” International Migration Review 39:577–607.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tuch, S.A. 1987. “Urbanism, Region, and Tolerance Revisited: The Case of Racial Prejudice.” American Sociological Review 52:504–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau. 2007. “Appendix A. Census 2000 Geographic Terms and Concepts.” Available online at http://www.census.gov/geo/www/tiger/glossry2.pdf

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2006. “Racial and Ethnic Diversity Increases in Rural America.” Available online at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/RaceAndEthnic/

  • Wahl, A.G., R.S. Breckenridge, and S.E. Gunkel. Forthcoming. “Latinos, Residential Segregation and Spatial Assimilation in Micropolitan Areas: Exploring the American Dilemma on a New Frontier.” Social Science Research.

  • Waters, M.C. and T.R. Jiménez. 2005. “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenge.” Annual Review of Sociology 31:105–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, M.J. and S. Sassler. 2000. “Judging Not Only by Color: Ethnicity, Nativity, and Neighborhood Attainment.” Social Science Quarterly 81:997–1013.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilkes, R. and J. Iceland. 2004. “Hypersegregation in the Twenty-First Century.” Demography 41:23–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wong, D.W.S. 2004. “Comparing Traditional and Spatial Segregation Measures: A Spatial Scale Perspective.” Urban Geography 25:66–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zúñiga, V. and R. Hernández-León, Eds. 2005. New Destinations: Mexican Immigration in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lichter, D.T., Parisi, D., Grice, S.M. et al. National estimates of racial segregation in rural and small-town America. Demography 44, 563–581 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2007.0030

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2007.0030

Keywords

  • Census Tract
  • Residential Segregation
  • Racial Segregation
  • Rural Place
  • Segregation Index