Beyond BLS briefly summarizes articles, reports, working papers, and other works published outside BLS on broad topics of interest to MLR readers.
Racial segregation exists in neighborhoods across the United States for several reasons. Redlining, racial covenants, and discrimination in the real estate market have all contributed to segregated communities. Although some of these contributing factors have disappeared, many segregated communities remain. Research has shown that segregation contributes to negative outcomes for Black children, relative to their White cohorts. In their essay, “City segregation and the college degree gap” (Economic Synopsis no. 17, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, June 23, 2022), authors Hannah Rubinton and Maggie Isaacson examine how the segregation level of a city affects the gap in college attainment between its Black and White children.
Rubinton and Isaacson use data from the U.S. Census Bureau and from Opportunity Insights, a not-for-profit organization based at Harvard University. The researchers use 2000 census data on census tracts and commuting zones. Census tracts are statistical subdivisions of a county. Commuting zones are areas intended to reflect the geographic relationship between where people live and work. In their essay, the authors consider commuting zones to be cities. Rubinton and Isaacson create a dissimilarity index to measure segregation. They create the index by calculating the proportions of Black and non-Black populations that live in each census tract. Then using data from Opportunity Insights, Rubinton and Isaacson assess the gap between races in college attainment. These data combine tax information with educational attainment data from the Census Bureau. From these datasets, the authors calculate the probability that a child who grew up in a given city obtained a college degree.
The authors find a positive correlation between segregation and the gap between Black students’ and White students’ levels of degree attainment. In other words, an increase in segregation increases the gap between the number of Black and White students obtaining college degrees. This correlation between college attainment and segregation matches the findings of other academic papers. The authors use new data sources to expound on those academic papers and create city-level perspectives on segregation and educational gaps.
Rubinton and Isaacson find from other studies that the link between segregation and the education gap may have a multitude of causes, as stated earlier. Several researchers have hypothesized that racial segregation can affect the frequency children interact with college-educated adults. Others argue that segregation can affect some groups’ access to higher quality schools. Other mechanisms, such as redlining, have been removed from the legal framework in the United States. However, the gap in educational outcomes as a result of segregation may be a not-so-distant echo of redlining. Rubinton and Isaacson conclude that a renewed campaign to integrate schools and neighborhoods could help narrow the racial gap in educational attainment.