Public Housing and Residential Segregation of Immigrants in France, 1968-1999

By Verdugo, Gregory | Population, January-March 2011 | Go to article overview

Public Housing and Residential Segregation of Immigrants in France, 1968-1999


Verdugo, Gregory, Population


Residential segregation does not simply reflect a desire on the part of social groups to live with persons from a similar background. It is also driven by the financial mechanisms of the housing rental market which exclude certain sub-populations from particular neighbourhoods, and by public housing policies which concentrate rent-controlled public housing projects in specific geographical locations and which define their allocation criteria. In the absence of segregation, the population would be randomly distributed, with identical spatial distributions of the various social groups. Divergences from this reference situation are observed at different geographical levels, across urban areas and across neighbourhoods within an urban area. In this article, Gregory VERDUGO uses population census data to measure residential segregation in France by country of birth and its evolution between 1968 and 1999. Across urban areas, residential segregation has decreased, while across neighbourhoods it has tended to increase between immigrant groups defined by their continent or sub-continent of origin. The concentration of immigrant public housing participation in certain urban neighbourhoods is the main explanation for this trend.

Keywords: public housing, immigration, segregation, urban area, France.

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The riots of 2005 in France highlighted the housing conditions of many fi rst- and second-generation immigrants in public housing suburbs. Following these events, social observers have been increasingly concerned about the consequences of segregation in France, arguing that the poorest part of the population, particularly some immigrant groups and their descendants, are becoming increasingly concentrated in public housing suburbs. However, as quantitative research on the evolution of segregation has been relatively rare until today, the impact of housing policies, particularly public housing, on segregation, remains unexplored. Public housing is a source of concern for immigration policymakers as the concentration of immigrants is very high in many suburban public housing developments in France, and in Europe more generally.

This paper describes the evolution of immigrant segregation in France over a period of 30 years from 1968 to 1999, the maximum time period for which census data at the individual level are available. The objective is to highlight the new and specifi c aspects of contemporary segregation of immigrants that have emerged since 1968, and to emphasize its links with the increase in public housing participation observed over the period.

The increase in public housing supply in France during the 1960s and 1970s was followed by a large increase in public housing participation by non- European immigrants after the 1980s. According to the 1999 census, while 15% of French natives lived in public housing in 1999, the participation rate was close to 50% for immigrants from the Maghreb. Public housing participation directly affects the locations of immigrants within and potentially across urban areas and thus infl uences different aspects of segregation.

This article examines two aspects of spatial segregation: fi rst, between urban areas, and second, within these areas, at neighbourhood level. The evolution of immigrant distributions across urban areas can be compared to determine whether the concentration of immigrants increased or decreased over the study period. The segregation of immigrants within urban areas is studied using average neighbourhood characteristics (1999 IRIS census tracts(1)) and various dissimilarity indices between groups of immigrants in urban areas with more than 50,000 inhabitants. Dissimilarity indices can be interpreted as the percentage of a population group that would have to switch neighbourhoods in order to produce a distribution that matches that of the rest of the population across the geographical area under consideration.

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