Expert Commentary

Residential segregation in new Hispanic destinations: Cities, suburbs and rural communities

2010 study from Cornell and Mississippi State on how Latinos are more segregated in new destination places, particularly in the suburbs and rural areas.

Latino father and child (iStock)

The significant decrease in Mexican immigration to the United States is not the only changing factor in the landscape of Hispanic migration. Increasingly, Hispanics in the United States are breaking out of the traditional “gateway states” of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and moving to the South and Midwest. Research is exploring how Hispanics are faring in these more rural and suburban destinations.

A 2010 study in Social Science Research, “Residential Segregation in New Hispanic Destinations: Cities, Suburbs and Rural Communities Compared,” examines the extent to which Hispanic immigrants are “spatially incorporated” in the new communities in which they settle. Using census data from 1990 and 2000, the authors, from Cornell and Mississippi State University, examine patterns of Hispanic-white segregation in new Hispanic destinations. These defined areas “experienced unusually rapid Hispanic growth over the 1990s,” compared with established destinations, or “those with 18 percent of more Hispanic residents in 1990″ — twice the national average.  As the scholars note of their research, “Our working assumption is that the new spatial diffusion of Hispanics into emerging destinations has been accompanied by increasing spatial balkanization rather than the emergence of ‘melting pot’ suburbs or small towns. We argue that residential segregation is an indirect measure of ethnic relations between Hispanics and whites.” The authors are Daniel T. Lichter, Domenico Parisi, Michael C. Taquino and Steven Michael Grice.

The study finds:

  • Hispanics are more segregated from whites in new destinations than they are in established Hispanic communities, with segregation levels at 58.6 points and 53.8 points respectively. The study measures segregation using an “index of dissimilarity,” in which a score of 0 indicates no segregation and 100 indicates complete segregation.
  • The difference is especially acute in rural and suburban places, where Hispanics are more segregated by 10 and 12 points, respectively. In cities, Hispanics are 5 points more segregated in new communities than in those that are established.
  • The higher levels of Hispanic segregation in new destinations persist “despite ecological, demographic, and economic characteristics that favor lower Hispanic-white segregation” in these locations.
  • A number of community characteristics are associated with higher levels of Hispanic-white segregation, including more foreign-born Hispanics, higher poverty rates and a preexisting African-American community: The data show that “Hispanic segregation in new destinations is sensitive to the ‘minority threat’ implied by the presence of a sizeable black population. Hispanic segregation was highest in these places.”
  • A greater incidence of manufacturing and service jobs is also associated with higher levels of Hispanic-white segregation.

The authors note that new Hispanic communities are overrepresented in the South and Midwest, while established communities are located primarily in the West. Additionally, while new Hispanic communities were found to have on average lower poverty rates than established Hispanic communities, greater economic opportunity for Hispanics “does not translate as easily into less segregation in new destinations as it does in established places.” Finally, the scholars caution that there is further complexity underlying the general data: “Previous research also shows that spatial assimilation processes may vary significantly among different national origin groups, such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, whose cultural and economic history in America are widely divergent…. We have described the average experience of Hispanics.”

Tags: Hispanic, Latino, poverty, rural

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