The Rise and Decline of the American Ghetto

David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, Jacob L. Vigdor

NBER Working Paper No. 5881
Issued in January 1997
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies, Public Economics

This paper examines segregation in American cities from 1890 to 1990. We divide the century into three time periods. From 1890 to 1940, ghettos were born as blacks migrated to urban areas and cities developed vast expanses filled with nearly exclusively black housing. From 1940 to 1970, black migration continued and ghettos expanded. Since 1970, there has been a decline in segregation as blacks have moved to suburban areas and central cities have become less segregated. Across all of these time periods there is a strong positive relation between urban population or density and segregation. We then examine why segregation has varied so much over time. We find evidence that the mechanism sustaining segregation has changed. In the mid-20th century taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods. By 1990, these legal barriers enforcing segregation had been replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more than blacks to live in predominantly white areas.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5881

Published: Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, no. 3 (June 1999): 455-506. citation courtesy of

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