Academic journal article Cityscape

Spatializing Segregation Measures: An Approach to Better Depict Social Relationships

Academic journal article Cityscape

Spatializing Segregation Measures: An Approach to Better Depict Social Relationships

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Residential segregation and the persistence thereof have long been topics of interest to a wide variety of academic disciplines (for example, sociology, demography, geography political science, and public health) and to professionals or practitioners in multiple fields (for example, law enforcement, urban planning, and health service providers). Particularly in the United States, such phenomena have been viewed as a key factor of significant separation between White and Black residents.

Therefore, formulating potential solutions to reduce the levels of residential segregation have been considered as a major societal concern (for example, Anderson et al., 2003; Charles, 2003; Clark, 1986; Massey and Fischer, 2000; Taeuber, 1968; Williams, 1999; Williams and Collins, 2001). Note that all racial groups in this article refer to the non-Hispanic populations.

With a view to inform public policies and decisionmaking, however, the use of effective and meaningful segregation measures is fundamental and crucial to develop a reliable depiction and understanding of the social environment that different population groups experience in their place of residence (Johnston, Poulsen, and Forrest, 2014).1 Since the publication of the review papers (for example, Massey and Denton, 1988; Massey, White, and Phua, 1996) that assessed several dozens of segregation measures, many more segregation measures have been introduced. Many of these newer measures are extensions or modifications of existing measures (for example, Feitosa et al., 2007; Reardon and O'Sullivan, 2004; Wong, 2008, 2002), but some are actually not measures of segregation (for example, Brown and Chung, 2006; Reibel and Regelson, 2007). The mushrooming in the number of segregation measures reflects that the concept of segregation is fluid, difficult to pin down, and multifaceted so that one or a few simple definitions are not capable of capturing its essence entirely. As a result, rather ineffective and insufficient ways of measuring segregation are evident in research and practice.

One major "malpractice" quite prevalent among studies focusing on neighborhood comparisons is using the percentage of racial and ethnic groups (for example, percent Black) as a measure of segregation to examine, for instance, the possible effects of residential segregation on academic performance (for example, Bennett, 2011; Card and Rothstein, 2007), home equity (for example, Deng, Ross, and Wächter, 2003; Kim, 2000), and health (for example, Inagami et al., 2006; Vinikoor et al., 2008). Census statistical units (tracts or block groups) have been used to denote the "neighborhoods" in most U.S. studies (including the six studies listed previously). Percentages, however, are not a measure of segregation (Johnston, Poulsen, and Forrest, 2007; Massey and Denton, 1988; Massey, White, and Phua, 1996; Reardon and O'Sullivan, 2004). A segregation measure needs to quantify how two or more population groups are distributed across space and to account for the potential of spatial interaction among population groups across areal units (Feitosa et al., 2007; Reardon and O'Sullivan, 2004; White, 1983; Wong, 2008, 2004, 2002, 1998, 1993).

Because the conceptual and methodological foundations of segregation studies have not been adequately translated into research and practice, the objectives of this article are threefold: (1) to explain a spatial approach for measuring the level of segregation at the neighborhood (or local) level, (2) to demonstrate the deficiencies of using a percentage of racial and ethnic group as a measure of segregation, and (3) to clarify the appropriateness of two commonly used indexes of dissimilarity and diversity. Data from two cities in the U.S. Midwest, St. Louis, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois, are used to discuss such conceptual and methodological concerns.


In this section, we first provide an overview about how measures that depict segregation levels at the local or neighborhood level are formulated. …

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