The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed housing discrimination by race and provided an important tool for dismantling legal segregation. But almost fifty years later, residential segregation remains virtually unchanged in many metropolitan areas, particularly where large groups of racial and ethnic minorities live. Why does segregation persist at such high rates and what makes it so difficult to combat?
In a new book from RSF, Cycle of Segregation: Social Processes and Residential Stratification, sociologists Maria Krysan and Kyle Crowder examine the everyday social processes that shape residential stratification. Through original analyses of national-level surveys and in-depth interviews with residents of Chicago, they show that segregation is reinforced through the biases and blind spots that individuals exhibit in their searches for housing. For instance, home-seekers rely heavily on information from friends, family, and coworkers when choosing where to live. Because social networks tend to be racially homogenous, people are likely to move to neighborhoods that are also dominated by their group. Similarly, home-seekers who report wanting to stay close to family members can end up in segregated destinations because their relatives live in those neighborhoods. The authors suggest that even absent of family ties, people gravitate toward neighborhoods that are familiar to them through their past experiences, including where they have previously lived and where they work, shop, and spend time. Because historical segregation has shaped so many of these experiences, even these seemingly race-neutral decisions help reinforce the cycle of residential stratification. As a result, segregation has declined much more slowly than many social scientists have expected.