Despite a steady decline in neighborhood segregation in the United States since the 1970s, a new study conducted by a USC professor shows that white families with children typically live in less diverse areas than other racial groups, which could lead to damaging effects on their racial perceptions of race.
Ann Owens, an assistant professor in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, analyzed census data from 100 different cities to observe segregation in neighborhoods, finding that white children are exposed to slightly fewer minorities in their communities compared to white adults.
The study also discovered that school district boundaries play a major role in where families decide to locate, and that white families often choose where they live based on the racial makeup of local schools.
“White parents may be avoiding school districts where black and Latino children live because they use racial composition as a proxy for quality of a school and a neighborhood,” Owens said in an interview with USC News.
The implications of this study are far-reaching, Owens claims because children’ exposure to minorities influences their lives on a broad scale.
“A lack of diversity could have a significant effect on the development of their racial attitudes and future education and employment,” Owens said.
This higher rate of neighborhood segregation among white children also has significant effects on minority children, the study found. Prior research shows that low-income minority children tend to fall behind in educational and financial well-being when they live in segregated areas, and thus attend less integrated schools.
Los Angeles in particular suffers from segregation more than other similar cities, according to the study. In Miami, which has a similar demographic composition, schools and neighborhoods are significantly less segregated. The study suggested that this is likely because Miami has only one school district and parents are less concerned about which neighborhoods they live in, whereas Los Angeles’ school system is more fragmented and attendance largely depends on location.