Arnold Kling  


When to Be Meek... Sharks--or Angels?...

The indispensable Timothy Taylor writes,

Take the two most common measures of residential segregation, the "dissimilarity index" and the "isolation index" (both explained further in a moment). Apply them to the 10 largest American cities using Census data The pattern that emerges is a large increase in residential segregation from about 1910 to 1950, segregation remaining at that high level from about 1950 to 1970, and then a sharp decline in residential segregation from 1970 up through 2010.

Read the whole thing. He is citing work by Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor.

My take on this, which I will put below the fold, relates to Charles Murray's recent book. My children experienced much more racial integration than I did while growing up. Yet I believe that they were much more segregated in other respects. And the kids in the tonier suburbs of DC are way more segregated than my kids were.

Here is the building in which I lived in 1963, in an area outside St. Louis, tucked into the northwest corner of University City. It is a stone structure (originally built as a barn), carved up into three small apartments. Just to the north is a brown duplex. These cheap duplexes were built around 1960, which was when the street was paved and given its name. Even though there were no high-rise apartment buildings in the neighborhood, I think that close to a majority of us were renters.

The neighborhood was 100 percent white when we lived there. We moved away in the spring of 1964, and less than a year later fair housing legislation passed Congress, after which black families swarmed in.

But in all other respects, this neighborhood was integrated. Most people living there were in the bottom 30 percent, but scattered around, living in the same sort of modest, close-together detached homes as everyone else, there were a couple of well-off owners of small businesses, and there were some well-educated professionals, including my father, who taught at Washington U.

I am sure that on my street no one's parents other than mine had gone to college--probably most did not graduate high school. I can guarantee you that none of the kids I played with on my street went to college (although I am sure that there were kids on other streets in the neighborhood who did).

I grew up thinking that fist-fighting was a normal activity for kids. My best friend, Damon, had a tooth chipped by a kid named Mike in a fight on Carlo Reina's driveway (just a little west if you zoom out, across Faris Avenue), and when I cried one of my other friends asked why I was crying--since it wasn't my tooth. The fight had been planned (just for something to do, not because any grudge was involved). Carlo's dad was sitting under the carport the whole time, and I am sure it never occurred to him to stop it.

On the other hand, fighting involving adults was considered over the line. When Steve Stella's mom wrestled another woman to the ground, grabbed her hair and slammed the woman's head against the curb, the word went out that Steve Stella's mom was nuts. She lived in the next duplex over from Damon's. The neighboring streets were not quite that trashy. Even though the detached homes on other streets were very modest, the duplexes were a step below that.

I only got hurt once. During a mudball fight, a kid stuck a rock inside a mudball, and when it hit me it broke my glasses. Otherwise, I talked my way out of some fights, but when all else failed I had the ability to run really, really fast.

The fight where Damon lost his tooth was one of the few examples of an activity that was organized in advance and had adult supervision. Usually, we played on our own. Frequently, we would use a bat and a rolled-up newspaper, because with a ball you broke too many windows.

So the way I remember 1963, Charles Murray is right. Children of college professors or entrepreneurs or lawyers played with children of single moms (e.g., my friend Damon) and children of blue-collar workers, in a neighborhood dominated by the latter. I do not recall any children or parents indicating any awareness of class differences.

Fast forward to today. Yes, where my kids went to school the races were much more mixed. Less than 25 percent non-Hispanic white, about 30 percent black, about 30 percent Hispanic. But kids did not play on the street with one another. Instead, they were always supervised, either in school or in organized activities. I don't think my kids ever had any friends in what Murray would call the bottom 30 percent of the income-education hierarchy. And, goodness, if you were to go to Potomac or Fairfax, you would see kids who never had any friends outside of the top 10 percent. And, of course, after high school graduation, the segregation becomes even more pronounced.

So, yes, racial segregation has declined since a peak around 1963. But segregation by income-education class has gone way up.

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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Jeff writes:

I wonder how much of that is driven by the public school system. The fact that they cannot segregate students themselves in any really meaningful way prompts parents to do it on their, move to a school district where the number of people who are of a lower class than you is miminal.

Maybe something for Bryan's upcoming book on education to touch on.

AngryKrugman writes:

Many of my fellow students at my "elite" law school--a large number growing up in the toney suburbs you mention--express surprise when I tell them it's outrageous for them to insist someone making $250K/year is merely "middle class". One told me--I grew up in a more economically, but less racially, diverse town--I had "poor man's disease" for not understanding why one must send their kids to expensive private schools, take extravagant vacations, etc.

Norman Pfyster writes:

I wonder how much of the increase in integration of the big cities is due to gentrification (sort of a reverse white flight). The oddest example I saw was the area around Cabrini-Green in Chicago; because the area had very high property values, you have nice new housing (mixed-race by design) next to some burnt out slums.

BTW, that's not the northwest corner of UCity. I lived quite a bit further west (around Ruth Park).

Becky Hargrove writes:

As a child I lived in the neighborhood of rental houses the local refinery had built for its workers. There were plenty of amenities that could be shared by all. The only class difference, if it could even be called that in the early sixties, was that the engineers had a row of houses next to the others. Same house plans: some had two bedrooms, some had three.

EastEasy writes:

Mr Kling tells us that he spent some time in a lower-economic neighborhood with a few college educated people or business owners sprinkled about. To make this extremely undersampled analogy work, he should find some similar neighborhoods that exist today, perhaps surrounding universities, in which there exist many lower-economic renters plus a sampling of professors and the likes. Instead, we get a personal anecdote about fist-fighting, a crazy neighbor, and somehow this leads to the conclusion that "segregation by income-education class has gone way up." And worse, we find out that " black families swarmed in," which makes blacks sound like rats or insects.

Was this supposed to be some sort of convincing argument?

Tom West writes:

I find the same change as Arnold. 40 years ago there was a moderate amount of segregation by race, not so much by class.

Now, my son's classes are incredibly racially diverse, but there's considerably less socio-economic diversity.

Part of this is that as Toronto has grown multi-cultural, there is a much larger pool of upper-middle class non-whites. But racial attitudes have also changed. When I was growing up in the mid-seventies, racism was already declassé. Now, it's considered contemptible, the exclusive province of the uneducated and culturally backward.

(Example: I had to explain to my 13 year-old bi-racial son what a racial epithet was - he'd never encountered one and was reading about one in a book.)

Steve Sailer writes:

Right. And the change from racial segregation to economic segregation was not coincidental. As Sherman McCoy's friend explains in "Bonfire of the Vanities," if you want to live in a big city with children, you have to "insulate, insulate, insulate." Before the Civil Rights era, society and the government provided working class whites with insulation through segregation. Afterwards, insulation became something every family had to buy for itself on the market. Thus, there were radical increases in the price of homes in desirable school districts. For example, Murray points out that the average prices of a home in Chevy Chase advertised in the Washington Post the Sunday before Kennedy was murdered was, in 2010 dollars, only $262,000!

Poorer people had to buy insulation with long commutes and the like.

Steve Sailer writes:

One big change that's real obvious in Los Angeles is how back when I was a kid, Jewish parents were extremely loyal to sending their kids to neighborhood public schools, but today there are numerous Jewish private schools. I was talking to my dentist, a Jewish guy my age who grew up within a couple of miles of me in the San Fernando Valley, and he said he never paid a dime in tuition: Millakin junior high, Grant HS, Valley JC, Cal State Northridge, and dental school at UCLA. To today's harried Valley parents, that seems like some hard-to-credit legend of a halcyon era when everybody had a martini at 5:30 pm daily.

Evan writes:

@Steve Sailor

Before the Civil Rights era, society and the government provided working class whites with insulation through segregation. Afterwards, insulation became something every family had to buy for itself on the market.
That doesn't quite make sense. "White" isn't synonymous with "middle class" and "black" isn't synonymous with "poor." Legally mandated racial segregation wouldn't work as insulation for poor whites since it only insulated them from blacks, not from other poor whites. If poor whites wanted to get away from other poor people they'd still have to pay their way out of poor white neighborhoods.

It seems more likely to me that the common sense explanation of legally mandated racial segregation is correct - it was motivated by simple bigotry.

It also seems like Arnold's story has given lie to Sherman McCoy's friend. He didn't have insulation, and nothing bad happened for lack of it. In fact, Arnold seems to think the experience made him more well-rounded! Of course, it's a bad idea to draw conclusions from a sample size of one, but Arnold seems to think he's representative of his demographic's experiences. Maybe the fears that drive "white flight" are exaggerated.

One big change that's real obvious in Los Angeles is how back when I was a kid, Jewish parents were extremely loyal to sending their kids to neighborhood public schools, but today there are numerous Jewish private schools.
Another possible reason for that is the modern tendency of overparenting, combined with increased fears of assimilation. Most of the Jewish people I know cite a desire to keep their children in touch with their heritage as the prime reason they favor private Jewish schools. I suppose that's another form of insulation, but cultural rather than racial or class-based.
John David Galt writes:

In my experience, a large part (but not all) of certain racial minorities choose to self-segregate by engaging in public behaviors that drive other people away from them. At least part of this is obviously done to provoke expressions of distaste and/or fear, which the bad-behavers can then call racism.

We need to stop taking such charges seriously -- and we especially need to amend the Civil Rights Act so that it's explicitly legal, in all contexts, to discriminate against bad behavior even if it has "disparate impact" on protected group(s).

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