E.g., 06/25/2016
E.g., 06/25/2016

Residential Segregation: A Transatlantic Analysis

September 2014

Residential Segregation: A Transatlantic Analysis

Residential segregation—the concentration of ethnic, national-origin, or socioeconomic groups in particular neighborhoods of a city or metropolitan area—is widely perceived as the antithesis of successful immigrant integration. Studies have linked this visible side effect of immigration and urbanization to a number of indications of poor well-being for individuals and communities, including unemployment, poor health, and social rifts. While segregation can provide certain protective benefits for immigrants living among their own ethnic or national-origin groups, it becomes problematic when accompanied by persistent overlapping inequalities.

A common perception is that minorities and immigrants self-segregate, which might be true for some new arrivals who choose to settle in ethnic enclaves where their social networks lead them. However, segregation occurs for many reasons, including housing market discrimination and decisions by the majority population on where to live. Patterns differ across countries and are thus more likely to reflect the deeper trends of social and economic exclusion in a particular context rather than inherent preferences of any group. For example, black segregation in the United States is greater than in the United Kingdom, reflecting a legacy of historic oppression, while Asian segregation is lower.

This report explores the problems ethnic residential segregation causes for individuals and communities and examines empirical evidence on the drivers of segregation in the United States and Europe. It then moves on to discuss policies to address residential segregation, which fall into two main categories: those that try to reduce segregation directly, like housing-related interventions, and those that target integration more broadly, including initiatives aimed at the underlying causes of segregation that seek to improve socioeconomic outcomes and nurture inter-group relations.

One crucial difference between segregation in the United States and Europe is that U.S. policymakers tend to focus on providing residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods with the tools to escape these areas, while European policymakers try to improve these neighborhoods themselves. Either approach is likely to be more successful if it tackles underlying ethnic inequalities or social divisions rather than relying on more "cosmetic" fixes to influence residential choices. 

This report was commissioned for the eleventh plenary meeting of MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration, which focused on how cities and regions can more fully reap the benefits of immigration.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The Challenge of Residential Segregation

III. Residential Segregation in Europe and the United States

A. Segregation Patterns

B. Why Does Segregation Occur?

IV. Policy Options

A. Policies to Reduce Segregation

B. Policies to Facilitate Integration

V. Conclusions