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The Rise and Decline of the American Ghetto

  • David M. Cutler
  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Jacob L. Vigdor

This paper examines segregation in American cities from 1890 to 1990. We divide the century into three time periods. From 1890 to 1940, ghettos were born as blacks migrated to urban areas and cities developed vast expanses filled with nearly exclusively black housing. From 1940 to 1970, black migration continued and ghettos expanded. Since 1970, there has been a decline in segregation as blacks have moved to suburban areas and central cities have become less segregated. Across all of these time periods there is a strong positive relation between urban population or density and segregation. We then examine why segregation has varied so much over time. We find evidence that the mechanism sustaining segregation has changed. In the mid-20th century taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods. By 1990, these legal barriers enforcing segregation had been replaced by decentralized racism, where whites pay more than blacks to live in predominantly white areas.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5881.

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Date of creation: Jan 1997
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, no. 3 (June 1999): 455-506.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5881
Note: LS PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. O'Regan, Katherine M. & Quigley, John M., 1995. "Teenage Employment and the Spatial Isolation of Minority and Poverty Households," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt6vg6961r, University of California Transportation Center.
  2. Borjas, George J, 1995. "Ethnicity, Neighborhoods, and Human-Capital Externalities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 365-90, June.
  3. Edward P. Lazear, 1995. "Culture and Language," NBER Working Papers 5249, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Anne C. Case & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects of Family and Neighborhood on Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis R, 1989. "Black Economic Progress after Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 519-64, June.
  6. Cutler, David M & Glaeser, Edward L, 1997. "Are Ghettos Good or Bad?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(3), pages 827-72, August.
  7. Goodman, John Jr. & Ittner, John B., 1992. "The accuracy of home owners' estimates of house value," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 339-357, December.
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