MSU researcher: U.S. racial residential segregation evolving

Contact: Carol Gifford

STARKVILLE, Miss.–Racial residential segregation in the United States is changing its form.

A new study co-authored by Mississippi State sociology professor Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi finds that, while neighborhood segregation declined between 1990-2010, segregation between suburbs and suburbs and central cities increasingly shifted the geography of exclusion from neighborhood-to-neighborhood to place-to-place.

Titled “Toward a New Macro-Segregation? Decomposing Segregation within and between Metropolitan Cities and Suburbs,” the report is featured in the August issue of American Sociological Review, a leading professional journal in the field.

“We are a diverse society and our racial relations reflect the places where we live,” said Parisi, director of the university’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, or NSPARC as it’s known to most.

Parisi said the study is different from traditional research that measures social distance between racial groups by neighborhood segregation levels.

Looking at segregation beyond the neighborhood scale raises important considerations that may apply to areas such as Ferguson, Missouri, he observed. Tensions are more likely to emerge in communities when the people involved come from places that are divided along racial and class lines, he added.

“At the end of the day, the story often comes down to place or race,” Parisi said.

“We need to ask whether the place or community has effective ways to deal with race,” Parisi continued. “Outsiders have different experiences and expectations when it comes to different racial groups based on how segregated the community is where they live.”

Even when racial segregation appears to have decreased in certain places, other factors may be in play, according to the veteran researcher. As an example, he cited Detroit, Michigan, where segregation between neighborhoods is declining, but the decline can be connected to a white-population exodus to the suburbs that has left a majority black population in the city.

In affluent suburbs surrounding older cities and other such places, policymakers may change the dynamics of the area through economic development or zoning, thereby attracting residents who are similar in socioeconomic and racial status, Parisi said.

The study also confirmed results that have been shown in decades of previous research on U.S. residential segregation. These include:

—The highest average segregation level is between blacks and whites;

—The lowest average level is between Asians and whites; and

—Hispanic-white segregation tends to fall between these two extremes.

Parisi coauthored the article with Daniel T. Lichter, professor of policy analysis and management and sociology professor and director of the Cornell Population Center at Cornell University, and NSPARC deputy director Michael C. Taquino, an MSU associate research professor.

Noting that race relations is among NSPARC’s signature research areas, Parisi said, “It’s important for us, as an interdisciplinary research center at MSU, to connect academic research to real-world issues.”

Racial relations will continue in news headlines and they are “an important topic for policymakers.” For that reason, he added, “We will continue to provide insight into the topic and make meaningful contributions to the current debate on racial relations in this country.”

For more about NPARC, visit Parisi may be reached at 662-325-9242.

MSU, Mississippi’s flagship research institution, is online at