Racial Sorting and the Emergence of Segregation in American Cities
Residential segregation by race grew sharply during the early twentieth century as black migrants from the South arrived in northern cities. The existing literature emphasizes collective action by whites to restrict where blacks could live as the driving force behind this rapid rise in segregation. Using newly assembled neighborhood-level data, we instead focus on the role of “flight” by whites, providing the first systematic evidence on the impact of prewar population dynamics within cities on the emergence of the American ghetto. Leveraging exogenous changes in neighborhood racial composition, we show that white departures in response to black arrivals were quantitatively large and accelerated between 1900 and 1930. Our preferred estimates suggest that white flight can explain 34 percent of the increase in segregation over the 1910s and 50 percent over the 1920s. A key implication of these findings is that segregation could have arisen solely as a consequence of flight behavior by whites.
Support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-1459847). Additional support was provided by the Central Research Development Fund and the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh. We are grateful to Brian Cadena, Terra McKinnish, Elizabeth Cascio, Ethan Lewis, Leah Platt Boustan, Bob Margo, Lowell Taylor, Brian Kovak, Spencer Banzhaf, Tom Mroz, Aimee Chin, Judith Hellerstein, and seminar audiences at the NBER Summer Institute (DAE), ASSA Meetings, Carnegie Mellon, Michigan, Georgia State, Mississippi State, Colorado, and the University of Western Australia for helpful comments. We thank John Logan for assistance with enumeration district mapping and for providing 1940 street files. We also thank David Ash and the California Center for Population Research for providing support for the microdata collection, Carlos Villarreal and the Union Army Project (www.uadata.org) for the 1930 street files, Jean Roth for her assistance with the national Ancestry.com data, and Martin Brennan and Jean-Francois Richard for their support of the project. We are grateful to Ancestry.com for providing access to the digitized census manuscripts. Antonio Diaz-Guy, Phil Wetzel, Jeremy Brown, Andrew O’Rourke, Aly Caito, Loleta Lee, and Zach Gozlan provided outstanding research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Allison Shertzer & Randall P. Walsh, 2019. "Racial Sorting and the Emergence of Segregation in American Cities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol 101(3), pages 415-427. citation courtesy of