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Continued: Desegregation -- an unsung success story

  • Article by: EDWARD GLAESER , Bloomberg News
  • Last update: January 31, 2012 - 6:11 PM

There were neighborhoods that were simply off-limits. The effect was that blacks paid more for housing, especially in more segregated cities.

A core economic idea is that people pay higher prices when their choices are limited, whether those limits come from tariff barriers or racial restrictions.

Thirty-five years ago, the economists John Kain (one of my mentors) and John Quigley found that blacks paid more than whites for comparable housing. My work with Cutler and Vigdor found that before 1970, the price and rent premium paid by blacks increased in more segregated areas, as you would expect of a group that had a more limited set of housing choices.

After 1970, however, this pricing pattern switched. By 1990, blacks were paying less for housing than whites, especially in more segregated metropolitan areas. This switch can be explained if segregation, post-1970, reflects white preferences rather than barriers preventing black mobility.

If the segregation that remains is the result of whites liking to live in primarily white neighborhoods, then we should expect whites to pay a price for limiting their own choices, and this is exactly what the data show.

The decline in segregation hasn't been uniform across the black population. Much of the decline reflects relatively well- educated black Americans moving into white districts.

While that freedom is something to celebrate, the exodus of the more skilled left many urban neighborhoods behind, and the effect of growing up in a segregated community appears to have gotten worse over time.

During the 20th century, blacks moved from being an overwhelmingly rural community to having a large presence in cities. They moved for economic opportunity and for freedom from the Jim Crow laws of the South.

Unfortunately, black migrants were too often prevented from enjoying the full benefits of freedom that city air can bring. Gradually, those barriers have fallen and American cities are more integrated than they have been since 1910.

This is a triumph for blacks and whites alike.


Edward Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard University, is a Bloomberg View columnist and the author of "Triumph of the City." 

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