Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Residential Concentrations in United States Metropolitan Areas

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Residential Concentrations in United States Metropolitan Areas

Article excerpt

Around 1970, metropolitan areas in the United States began to receive increasing numbers of immigrants. However, little is known about the extent to which these immigrants, their U.S.-born children and grandchildren, and others with the same ethnic identity have clustered together to form neighborhood residential concentrations. We explore the extent to which ethnic groups are concentrated residentially in metropolitan areas and how groups and places vary in their levels of concentration.

Identifying and understanding such concentrations is important for three reasons. First, both assimilation theory and recent research suggest that the proportion of an ethnic group living in a concentrated settlement is an indicator of the group's relative cultural assimilation in the United States and, perhaps, its economic status (Massey 1985; Allen and Turner 1996; Alba and Nee 1999). The greater the proportion of the group that is residentially concentrated, the weaker the group's presumed assimilation. We probe this relationship by examining group differences in level of residential concentration and how they relate to the percentage of the group that is foreign-born and to the percentage that is proficient in English.

Thus, a group's settlement pattern can give a clue as to how its members are adapting to life in the United States. As phrased by other scholars studying immigrant suburbanization, "One important set of questions concerns the settlement patterns of immigrant groups within suburbia and, more specifically, the degree to which suburban settlement will result in ethnic concentrations ... or dispersal in largely white communities" (Alba and others 1999, 458).

Second, a theoretical disagreement exists as to whether ethnic residential concentrations should even be found in modern metropolitan areas. If traditional assimilation theory applies to recent immigrants, concentrations should be expected, at least as a stage in the process of adaptation. However, a contradictory view states that improved transportation, communication, and changes in lifestyle make ethnic concentrations unnecessary (Zelinsky and Lee 1998).

The third rationale for this analysis is that studies measuring ethnic residential concentrations have dealt only with the New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas. Although concentrations are clearly evident in those places, the fact that these large places are among the largest receivers of immigrants clearly raises the question as to whether they are typical. To what extent are residential concentrations found in smaller metropolitan areas that have received fewer immigrants?

Why have residential concentrations--a possibly important component of the fabric of contemporary America--been so little investigated? One likely reason is that they are difficult to define. They are usually smaller than and independent of the municipal jurisdictions for which segregation indices based on census data are easily calculable. In addition, traditional theory based on the experience of the early twentieth century suggests that such concentrations should not be found in suburbs because the more assimilated immigrants should residentially disperse among the mostly white suburbanites. Assuming the theory to be correct, scholars may not even have looked for ethnic concentrations in suburbs.


Ethnic residential concentrations are neighborhoods in which members of ethnic groups live much closer to each other than would be the case if they were distributed randomly. The method by which such concentrations are defined is complex, and we explain it in detail below.

The concept of "enclave" can overlap with residential concentration, but we do not use that term in this research because it has multiple meanings that could make it potentially confusing. In the sense of residential concentrations, some scholars (Logan, Alba, and Zhang 2002; Poulsen, Johnston, and Forrest 2002; Parks 2004) have used "enclave" for neighborhoods in which the ethnic group is found in fairly high proportions, and Peter Marcuse (2000) stresses the voluntary nature of contemporary enclaves. …

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