In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Residential Segregation

  • Introduction
  • Classic Works
  • Contemporary Overviews
  • Segregation Research beyond the United States

Sociology Residential Segregation
Jeffrey M. Timberlake, Mario D. Ignatov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 November 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0116


Residential segregation refers generally to the spatial separation of two or more social groups within a specified geographic area, such as a municipality, a county, or a metropolitan area. Most commonly, scholarship on residential segregation explores the extent to which groups defined by racial, ethnic, or national origin live in different neighborhoods; however, groups can be residentially segregated on the basis of any ascribed or achieved characteristic (such as religion, family structure, or socioeconomic status) and at any level of geography (such as a residential block, a state or province, or a country region). The topics examined by segregation scholars fall into three general categories: temporal trends and geographic patterns, historical and ongoing causes, and effects on the life chances of the social groups under consideration. Segregation is typically thought to benefit groups with high levels of various forms of capital (such as ethnoracial majority groups and the affluent) and harm groups with low levels of capital (such as minority groups and the poor), principally via the consequences of exposure to concentrated neighborhood affluence or poverty.

Classic Works

Sociologists and demographers have long recognized that social groups tend to be differentiated in residential space. The earliest explanation for this pattern was promulgated by scholars working within the Chicago school of human ecology (e.g., Park, et al. 1925; Burgess 1928). Such scholars theorized that a variety of “natural” mechanisms produced “an orderly and typical grouping of its population and institutions” (Park, et al. 1925, p. 1), yielding, among other things, residential differentiation between groups defined on the basis of ethnoracial or national origin. The human ecological approach influenced a large number of studies of segregation in Chicago (Duncan and Duncan 1957) and New York (Glazer and Moynihan 1963), and in broader samples of US metropolitan areas (Lieberson 1963; Taeuber and Taeuber 1965).

  • Burgess, Ernest W. 1928. Residential segregation in American cities. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140:105–115.

    DOI: 10.1177/000271622814000115

    This is perhaps the earliest quantitative study of segregation. The author examines concentrations of “Negroes, Italians, and Poles” in “wards” in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Manhattan, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The article includes a map of the “radial expansion of racial and immigrant groups.”

  • Duncan, Otis D. and Beverly Duncan. 1957. The Negro population of Chicago: A study of residential succession. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This is a demographic and ecological analysis of the Negro life in Chicago. It draws on a series of published ecological studies in the first half of the 20th century and makes intra- and intercommunity comparisons regarding changes in population composition and housing characteristics using US Census data.

  • Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel P. Moynihan. 1963. Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This book examines patterns of economic, educational, family, religious, political, and residential incorporation of the five mentioned in the title in New York City. Although some ethnic groups such as the Germans have become fully assimilated, religion and race remain two axes along which group differentiation persists in New York.

  • Lieberson, Stanley. 1963. Ethnic patterns in American cities: A comparative study using data from ten urban centers. New York: Free Press.

    This book continues the tradition of ecological studies of urban populations. What sets this work apart from previous inquiry is its comparative design, which adds other metropolitan areas for comparison and contrast with the city of Chicago.

  • Park, Robert E., Ernest W. Burgess, Roderick D. McKenzie, and Louis Wirth. 1925. The city: Suggestions for investigation of human behavior in the urban environment. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This volume outlines the human ecological approach to studying urban areas. It contains general statements of the approach and includes the famous “concentric zone” model of urban growth developed by Ernest Burgess.

  • Taeuber, Karl F., and Alma Taeuber. 1965. Negroes in cities: Residential segregation and neighborhood change. New York: Aldine.

    This research examines patterns of Negro residential segregation and the process of neighborhood change, highlighting important regional differences. The authors use quantitative methods to argue that the findings in Duncan and Duncan 1957 cannot be generalized to other American cities.

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