From school and residential segregation to increased pollution and aggressive policing in low-income neighborhoods, socioeconomic inequality is organized and reinforced through space and place. In Volume 3, Issue 2 of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, editors George Galster and Patrick Sharkey and contributors present a new conceptual model for understanding space as one of the foundations of inequality. They bring together empirical research on neighborhoods, schools, and communities to demonstrate the extent to which people’s environments influence their life chances.
Articles in this issue explore the scale and dimensions of spatial inequality. Sean Reardon and coauthors develop a novel method of describing the joint distribution of race and income among neighborhoods. They demonstrate how blacks and Hispanics at all income levels typically live in substantially poorer neighborhoods than whites and Asians of the same income. Ann Owens investigates the relationship between residential segregation and school boundaries and finds that because parents often decide where to live based on school districts, school-age children live in more segregated neighborhoods than adults on the whole. John Hipp and Charis Kubrin examine how changes in the racial, ethnic, and economic composition of the areas that surround a given neighborhood affect it, and find that when inequality rises in a neighborhood’s surrounding areas, crime tends to increase in that neighborhood.
Other contributors study how space serves to maintain or reproduce inequalities. Anna Maria Santiago and coauthors find that neighborhood conditions—including racial and socioeconomic makeup and levels of violent crime—affect the chances that black and Latino youths will engage in risky behaviors, such as running away and using marijuana. For instance, low-income African American youths who live in neighborhoods inhabited by higher status residents are less likely to run away from home. Christopher Browning and coauthors examine the extent to which people of different socioeconomic status share space in their day-to-day lives, including working, shopping, and spending leisure time. They find that families of higher socioeconomic status are less likely to share common spaces with neighbors of any class, in part because they have more choice and control over where they go.
As the articles in this issue show, space is a core dimension of social stratification and is fundamental to understanding social and economic inequality.