The Geography of Stigma: Experimental Methods to Identify the Penalty of Place

  • Max BesbrisEmail author
  • Jacob William Faber
  • Peter Rich
  • Patrick Sharkey
Part of the Methodos Series book series (METH, volume 14)


The United States remains a spatially segregated nation by many measures including race, income, wealth, political views, education , and immigration status. Scholars have, for many years, grappled with questions stemming from spatial inequality and have come to recognize the neighborhood in which an individual lives as a socially organizing unit of space, predictive of many individual-level outcomes. The mechanisms that underlie the relationship between neighborhoods and outcomes for residents, however, remain relatively underexplored. In this chapter, we show how the use of audits and field experiments can help uncover one such mechanism—place-based stigma in social interactions. Specifically, we describe the methodology of a previous study (Besbris M, Faber JW, Rich P, Sharkey P, Effect of neighborhood stigma on economic transactions. Proc Nat Acad Sci 112:4994–4998, 2015) that revealed how signaling residence in a poor community of color negatively affected sellers’ ability to attract buyers in a classified marketplace. We focus on the study’s operationalization of neighborhoods and show how future research can use non-individual-level treatment characteristics such as units of space. Doing so helps us better understand the causal relationship between space and individual-level outcomes, as well as better parse the effects of individual-level variables versus non-individual-level variables, which are often conflated in non-experimental research. We close by suggesting the implementation of field experiments in testing for effects at other geographic scales, such as metropolitan area, state, region, country, or continent.


Spatial stigma Experimental design Socio-spatial inequality 


  1. Ahmed, A. M., & Hammarstedt, M. (2008). Discrimination in the rental housing market: A field experiment on the internet. Journal of Urban Economics, 64, 362–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ananat, E. O. (2011). The wrong side of the tracks: The causal effects of racial segregation on urban poverty and inequality. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3, 34–66.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, E. (2011). The cosmopolitan canopy: Race and civility in everyday life. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, E. (2012). The iconic ghetto. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 642, 8–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anderson, E. (2015). The white space. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 1, 10–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bader, M. D., & Krysan, M. (2015). Community attraction and avoidance in Chicago: What’s race got to do with it? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 660, 261–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baldassarri, D., & Abascal, M. (2017). Field experiments in the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology, 43.
  9. Bauder, H. (2002). Neighborhood effects and cultural exclusion. Urban Studies, 39, 89–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bertrand, M., & Duflo, E. (2016). Field experiments on discrimination (NBER Working Paper #22014).Google Scholar
  11. Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. American Economic Review, 94, 991–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Besbris, M. (2015). Stigma. In F. F. Wherry & J. B. Schor (Eds.), The Sage encyclopedia of economics and society (pp. 1532–1534). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Besbris, M. (2016). Romancing the home: Emotions and the interactional creation of demand in the housing market. Socio-Economic Review, 14, 461–482.Google Scholar
  14. Besbris, M., & Faber, J. W. (2017). Investigating the relationship between real estate agents, segregation, and house prices: Steering and upselling in New York State. Sociological Forum, 32.
  15. Besbris, M., Faber, J. W., Rich, P., & Sharkey, P. (2015). Effect of neighborhood stigma on economic transactions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 112, 4994–4998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Card, D., & Rothstein, J. (2007). Racial segregation and the black-white test score gap. Journal of Public Economics, 91, 2158–2184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Charles, C. Z. (2003). Won’t you be my neighbor? Race, class, and residence in Los Angeles. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  18. Cheshire, P. (2012). Are mixed community policies evidence based? A review of research on neighbourhood effects. In M. van Ham, D. Manley, N. Baily, L. Simpson, & D. Maclennan (Eds.), Neighbourhood effects research: New perspectives (pp. 267–294). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chetty, R., Hendren, N., & Katz, L. (2016). The effects of exposure to better neighborhoods on children: New evidence from the moving to opportunity experiment. American Economic Review, 106, 855–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chiricos, T., Hogan, M., & Gertz, M. (1997). Racial composition of neighborhood and fear of crime. Criminology, 35, 107–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chiricos, T., Padgett, K., & Gertz, M. (2000). Fear, TV news, and the reality of crime. Criminology, 38, 755–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Clark, W. A. V. (1991). Residential preferences and neighborhood racial segregation: A test of the Schelling segregation model. Demography, 28(1), 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cutler, D. M., & Glaeser, E. L. (1997). Are ghettos good or bad? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112, 827–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ehrenhalt, A. (2012). The great inversion and the future of the American City. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  25. Ellen, I. G. (2000). Sharing America’s neighborhoods. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ellen, I. G., & Turner, M. A. (1997). Does neighborhood matter? Assessing recent evidence. Housing Policy Debate, 8, 833–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Emerson, M. O., Chai, K. J., & Yancey, G. (2001). Does race matter in residential segregation? Exploring the preferences of white Americans. American Sociological Review, 66, 922–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Faber, J. W. (2013). Racial dynamics of subprime mortgage lending at the peak. Housing Policy Debate, 23, 328–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fiske, S. T. (1998). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In L. Gardner, D. Gilbert, & S. T. Fiske (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (pp. 357–411). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Gaddis, S. M. (2015). Discrimination in the credential society: An audit study of race and college selectivity in the labor market. Social Forces, 93, 1451–1479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gaddis, S. M. (2017a). How black are Lakisha and Jamal? Racial perceptions from names used in correspondence audit studies. Sociological Science, 4, 469–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gaddis, S. M. (2017b). Racial/ethnic perceptions from Hispanic names: Selecting names to test for discrimination. Socius, 3, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gaddis, S. M. (2018). An introduction to audit studies in the social sciences. In S. M. Gaddis (Ed.), Audit studies: Behind the scenes with theory, method, and nuance. Cham: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Galster, G. C. (2012). The mechanism(s) of neighbourhood effects: Theory, evidence, and policy implications. In M. van Ham, D. Manley, N. Baily, L. Simpson, & D. Maclennan (Eds.), Neighbourhood effects research: New perspectives (pp. 23–56). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Galster, G. C., & Sharkey, P. (2017). Spatial foundations of inequality: A conceptual model and empirical overview. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 3(2), 1–33.Google Scholar
  36. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  37. Hanson, A., & Hawley, Z. (2011). Do landlords discriminate in the rental housing market? Evidence from an internet field experiment in U.S. cities. Journal of Urban Economics, 70, 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harding, D., Gennetian, L., Winship, C., Sanbonmatsu, L., & Kling, J. (2011). Unpacking neighborhood influences on education outcomes: Setting the stage for future research. In G. Duncan & R. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools and children’s life chances Russell (pp. 277–296). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Harris, D. R. (1999). ‘Property values drop when black move in, because…’ racial and socioeconomic determinants of neighborhood desirability. American Sociological Review, 64, 461–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hogan, B., & Berry, B. (2011). Racial and ethnic biases in rental housing: An audit study of online apartment listings. City & Community, 10, 351–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hunter, A. (1974). Symbolic communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  42. Hwang, J. (2016). The social construction of a gentrifying neighborhood: Reifying and redefining identity and boundaries in inequality. Urban Affairs Review, 52, 98–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jones, N., & Jackson, C. (2012). ‘You just don’t go down there’: Learning to avoid the ghetto in San Francisco. In R. Hutchinson & B. D. Haynes (Eds.), The Ghetto: Contemporary global issues and controversies (pp. 83–110). Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  44. Jencks, C., & Mayer, S. (1990). The social consequences of growing up in a poor neighborhood. In L. Lynn & M. McGeary (Eds.), Inner city poverty in the United States (pp. 111–186). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  45. Krysan, M., & Bader, M. (2007). Perceiving the metropolis: Seeing the city through the prism of race. Social Forces, 86, 699–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Krysan, M., & Farley, R. (2002). The residential preferences of blacks: Do they explain persistent segregation? Social Forces, 80, 937–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Krysan, M., Crowder, K., & Bader, M. D. M. (2014). Pathways to residential segregation. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 27–63). New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  48. Lareau, A. (2014). Schools, housing, and the reproduction of inequality. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools. Russell (pp. 169–206). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  49. Lauster, N., & Easterbrook, A. (2011). No room for new families? A field experiment measuring rental discrimination against same-sex couples and single parents. Social Problems, 58, 389–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lichter, D. T., Parisi, D., & Taquino, M. C. (2015). Toward a new macro-segregation? Decomposing segregation within and between metropolitan cities and suburbs. American Sociological Review, 80, 843–873.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2001). Conceptualizing stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 363–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Liska, A. E., Lawrence, J. J., & Sanchirico, A. (1982). Fear of crime as a social fact. Social Forces, 60, 760–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Logan, J. R., & Stults, B. (2011). The persistence of segregation in the metropolis: New findings from the 2010 census (Census Brief prepared for Project US2010). 1–25
  54. Ludwig, J., Liebman, J. B., Kling, J. R., Duncan, G. J., Katz, L. F., Kessler, R. C., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2008). What can we learn about neighborhood effects from the moving to opportunity experiment? American Journal of Sociology, 114, 144–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Mayer, S. E., & Jencks, C. (1989). Growing up in poor neighborhoods: How much does it matter? Science, 243, 1441–1445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Morgan, S. L., & Winship, C. (2007). Counterfactuals and causal evidence. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Neckerman, K. M., & Kirschenman, J. (1991). Hiring strategies, racial bias, and inner-city workers. Social Problems, 38, 433–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pager, D., & Quillian, L. (2005). Walking the talk? What employers say versus what they do. American Sociological Review, 70, 355–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pedulla, D. (2014). The positive consequences of negative stereotypes: Race, sexual orientation, and the job application process. Social Psychology Quarterly, 77, 75–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pedulla, D. (2016). Penalized or protected?: Gender and the consequences of nonstandard and mismatched employment histories. American Sociological Review, 81, 262–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Peterson, R. D., & Krivo, L. J. (2012). Divergent social worlds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  63. Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Quillian, L., & Pager, D. (2001). Black neighbors, higher crime? The role of racial stereotypes in evaluations of neighborhood crime. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 717–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Reardon, S. F., & Bischoff, K. (2011). Income inequality and income segregation. American Journal of Sociology, 116, 1092–1153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Robnett, B., & Feliciano, C. (2011). Patterns of racial-ethnic exclusion by internet daters. Social Forces, 89, 807–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sampson, R. J. (2008). Moving to inequality: Neighborhood effects and experiments meet social structure. American Journal of Sociology, 114, 189–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sampson, R. J. (2012). Great American city: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sampson, R. J., & Sharkey, P. (2008). Neighborhood selection and the social reproduction of concentrated racial inequality. Demography, 45, 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sharkey, P., & Elwert, F. (2011). The legacy of disadvantage: Multigenerational neighborhood effects on cognitive ability. American Journal of Sociology, 116, 1934–1981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sharkey, P., & Faber, J. W. (2014). Where, when, why, and for whom do residential contexts matter? Moving away from the dichotomous understanding of neighborhood effects. Annual Review of Sociology, 40, 559–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sharkey, P., Besbris, M., & Friedson, M. (2016). Poverty and crime. In D. Brady & L. M. Burton (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of the social science of poverty (pp. 623–636). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Sigelman, L., & Welch, S. (1993). The contact hypothesis revisited: Black-white interaction and positive racial attitudes. Social Forces, 94, 781–795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Small, M. L. (2004). Villa Victoria: The transformation of social capital in a Boston barrio. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Small, M. L., & Feldman, J. (2012). Ethnographic evidence, heterogeneity, and neighbourhood effects after moving to opportunity. In M. van Ham, D. Manley, N. Baily, L. Simpson, & D. Maclennan (Eds.), Neighbourhood effects research: New perspectives (pp. 57–78). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  76. Suttles, G. D. (1972). The social construction of communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  77. Torche, F., & Rich, P. (2017). Declining racial stratification in marriage choices? Trends in black/white status exchange in the United States, 1980 to 2010. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3, 31–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wacquant, L. J. D. (2008). Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  79. Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  80. Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  81. Wodtke, G. T., Harding, D. J., & Elwert, F. (2011). Neighborhood effects in temporal perspective: The impact of longterm exposure to concentrated disadvantage on high school graduation. American Sociological Review, 76, 713–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Yinger, J. (1995). Closed doors, opportunities lost. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Max Besbris
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jacob William Faber
    • 2
  • Peter Rich
    • 3
  • Patrick Sharkey
    • 2
  1. 1.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations