Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008: 79–94 79
IMMIGRANT RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION IN U.S.
METROPOLITAN AREAS, 1990–2000*
JOHN ICELAND AND MELISSA SCOPILLITI
This paper examines the extent of spatial assimilation among immigrants of different racial and
ethnic origins. We use restricted data from the 1990 and 2000 censuses to calculate the levels of dis-
similarity by race and Hispanic origin, nativity, and year of entry, and then run multivariate models
to examine these relationships. The fi ndings provide broad support for spatial assimilation theory.
Foreign-born Hispanics, Asians, and blacks are more segregated from native-born non-Hispanic
whites than are the U.S.-born of these groups. The patterns for Hispanics and Asians can be explained
by the average characteristics of the foreign-born that are generally associated with higher levels of
segregation, such as lower levels of income, English language ability, and homeownership. We also
fi nd that immigrants who have been in the United States for longer periods are generally less segregat-
ed than new arrivals, and once again, much of this difference can be attributed to the characteristics
of immigrants. However, patterns also vary across groups. Levels of segregation are much higher for
black immigrants than for Asian, Hispanic, and white immigrants. In addition, because black immi-
grants are, on average, of higher socioeconomic status than native-born blacks, such characteristics
do not help explain their very high levels of segregation.
mmigration has dramatically altered the racial and ethnic composition of the United
States. Between 1980 and 2000, the minority population grew by 88%, much of it fueled
by immigration from Latin America and Asia (Hobbs and Stoops 2002). The immigration
of blacks from Africa and the Caribbean has also increased signifi cantly in recent years.
As of 2000, nearly 2.4 million black immigrants lived in U.S. metropolitan areas, 42% of
which entered in the last decade (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). This rapid increase in the
minority and immigrant populations in the United States has substantially transformed the
metropolitan landscape. Some areas that previously had little diversity now have large and
growing immigrant populations (Frey 2003; Singer 2004).
Many studies have shown that Hispanic-white and Asian-white segregation is lower
than black-white segregation. However, black segregation from whites has declined over
the past few decades, while Hispanic and Asian segregation has changed little or even in-
creased (Iceland, Weinberg, and Steinmetz 2002; Lewis Mumford Center 2001). Relatively
little is known about the role that immigration may have played in these broader trends, the
levels of residential segregation of immigrants themselves, and the extent to which the ac-
culturation process and socioeconomic characteristics of immigrants shape these patterns.
Moreover, because of data constraints, comparatively little is known about whether the
effect of immigrant characteristics varies by race and ethnicity. This study seeks to shed
light on precisely these issues.
Our research is guided by the following specifi c questions: (1) Are foreign-born
Hispanics, Asians, and blacks more segregated from non-Hispanic whites than are the
native-born of those respective groups? (2) Are immigrants who have been in the United
States longer less segregated from non-Hispanic whites than are recent arrivals? (3) Are
residential patterns in large part explained by the characteristics of immigrants, such as
*John Iceland, 2112 Art/Sociology Building, Sociology Department, University of Maryland, College Park,
MD 20742-1315; E-mail: email@example.com. Melissa Scopilliti, Sociology Department, University of Maryland,
College Park. This work was developed under a subcontract with Sabre Systems, Inc., and utilizes funds provided
by the Census Bureau. Funding also comes from NIH Grant R01 HD 0489047-01.
80 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
socioeconomic status and other acculturation indicators? If the analyses yield affi rmative
answers to all of these questions, then the notion that immigrants are spatially assimilat-
ing receives strong empirical support. If we fi nd affi rmative answers for some immigrant
groups but not for others, then the “segmented assimilation” perspective may provide a
better framework for understanding immigrant patterns of incorporation. Finally, if there
is little relation between segregation and group characteristics among any racial or ethnic
group, then the ethnic disadvantage (or “place stratifi cation”) approach receives the stron-
gest empirical validation.
To investigate these issues, we use restricted data from the 1990 and 2000 censuses.
We calculate levels of dissimilarity by race and Hispanic origin, nativity, and year of entry,
and then run multivariate models to examine these relationships.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: IMMIGRANT INCORPORATION AND
Three common theoretical perspectives used to explain immigrant incorporation are assimi-
lation, ethnic disadvantage, and segmented assimilation (Bean and Stevens 2003). Below,
we discuss how these models have been applied to understanding the residential patterns
Assimilation refers to the general convergence of social, economic, and cultural pat-
terns among distinct groups (Alba and Nee 2003). According to the spatial assimilation
model, which is invoked to explain residential arrangements in particular, differences in
acculturation and socioeconomic status across racial and ethnic groups help shape patterns
of segregation (Massey 1985). The model posits that new immigrants often fi rst settle in
fairly homogeneous ethnic enclaves within a given metropolitan area. This may be due to
migrants’ feeling more comfortable with (and welcomed by) fellow coethnics and to the
inability of many immigrants to afford living in the same neighborhoods as the dominant
majority group, which in the United States is the native-born non-Hispanic white popula-
tion (Charles 2001).
As immigrants make gains in socioeconomic status, such as through increases in in-
come and English language ability and knowledge of local areas, they translate these gains
into improvement in their spatial location. These spatial improvements are thought to typi-
cally involve moves to neighborhoods with more native-born non-Hispanic whites (Massey
1985). In essence, residential mobility follows from the acculturation and social mobility of
individuals. This results in the dispersion of immigrant and minority-group members and
desegregation over time (Alba and Nee 2003; Massey and Denton 1988b).
In contrast to assimilation theory, the ethnic disadvantage model (often termed “place
stratifi cation” in the residential segregation literature) holds that increasing knowledge of
the language of the new country and familiarity with its culture and customs often do not
lead to increasing assimilation. Lingering prejudice and discrimination by the dominant
group (non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. context) hamper the assimilation process (Charles
2003). The effects of structural barriers are thought to be greatest for blacks in the United
States because blacks have historically been perceived in the most unfavorable terms (Bobo
and Zubrinksky 1996; Farley et al. 1994).
Discriminatory practices in the housing market against African Americans in particular,
as well as Hispanics and Asians, have been widely documented (Turner and Ross 2003;
Turner et al. 2002). Over the years, discriminatory practices have included real estate
agents steering racial groups to certain neighborhoods, unequal access to mortgage credit,
exclusionary zoning (in which groups are restricted to particular neighborhoods), and
neighbors’ hostility (Goering and Wienk 1996; Meyer 2000; Yinger 1995). Research has
indicated a decline in discrimination in the housing market in recent years, perhaps due
to changing attitudes in society, the rising economic status of minority customers, and the
continuing effect of the Fair Housing Act and its enforcement on the real estate industry
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 81
(Ross and Turner 2005). Overall, it is reasonable to believe that discrimination plays a role
in shaping the residential patterns of nonwhite immigrants.
A third common theory of immigrant incorporation is segmented assimilation. This
perspective focuses on divergent patterns of incorporation among contemporary immi-
grants (Portes and Zhou 1993; Zhou 1999). Individual- and structural-level factors affect
the incorporation process, and there is an important interaction between the two levels.
Individual-level factors include education, career aspiration, English language ability, place
of birth, age at the time of arrival, and length of residence in the United States. Structural
factors include racial status, family socioeconomic background, and place of residence.
Class, for example, is an important determinant of opportunities, and the skin color of the
majority of new immigrants sets them apart from European Americans (Zhou 1999). The
host society offers uneven possibilities to different immigrant groups, and segmented as-
similation theory posits that recent immigrants are being absorbed by different segments of
American society, ranging from affl uent middle-class suburbs to impoverished inner-city
ghettos, and that “becoming American” may not always be an advantage for the immigrants
themselves or for their children. Thus, according to the segmented assimilation model, we
should expect to see considerable differences in residential patterns for various immigrant
groups, with some groups experiencing no decline in their residential segregation from
non-Hispanic whites over time.
EMPIRICAL FINDINGS OF PAST RESEARCH AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE
Studies have generally provided some support for the spatial assimilation model. Mem-
bers of ancestry groups that have been in the United States longer are less segregated than
groups with more recent histories in the United States (Jones 2003; White and Glick 1999).
Segregation is also lower for the native-born of ethnic groups than for the foreign-born,
and studies have generally found that members of an ethnic group who have a high socio-
economic status (SES) are less segregated from whites than are low-SES members, though
the pattern is weaker for African Americans (Clark 2007; Iceland, Sharpe, and Steinmetz
2005; Iceland and Wilkes 2006; St. John and Clymer 2000).
In a pair of studies that focused on the spatial assimilation of Latinos and Latino immi-
grants, South, Crowder, and Chavez (2005a, 2005b) likewise found support for the spatial
assimilation model. Their results showed that higher-SES Hispanics and those with greater
English language profi ciency were also more likely to move into neighborhoods with more
non-Hispanic whites than were low-SES Hispanics with less English profi ciency. In con-
trast, using 1990 data on two metropolitan areas (Miami and New York), Freeman (2002)
found that foreign-born blacks who immigrated in the 1980s had about the same level of
segregation as immigrants who arrived in the 1960s and earlier in one metropolitan area,
and only slightly lower segregation in the other, providing little support for the spatial as-
similation model. Along these lines, Denton and Massey (1989) and Crowder (1999) also
concluded that race plays the most important role in explaining residential patterns of black
immigrants from the Caribbean.
Overall, the literature provides fragmentary evidence that spatial assimilation has
predictive power in explaining residential patterns of immigrants. The wide range of ex-
periences for a variety of groups, however, suggests that segmented assimilation may best
explain levels and trends in segregation, with racial and ethnic stratifi cation continuing to
play prominent roles for blacks in particular.
The present study builds on the existing literature in two ways. First, we directly
compare the segregation patterns of immigrants of different racial and ethnic groups, us-
ing data from the two most recent censuses. Previous studies have tended to either com-
pare broader racial and ethnic groups and not immigrants in particular (e.g., Iceland et
al. 2002; Massey and Denton 1989) or focus on the experiences of particular immigrant
82 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
groups (e.g., Freeman 2002; South et al. 2005b). No previous study has calculated resi-
dential segregation indexes for all race groups by nativity and year of entry. These com-
parisons will allow us to carefully evaluate the spatial assimilation model by contrasting
the experiences of different immigrant groups using data on all metropolitan areas in the
Second, our use of restricted census fi les permits a more precise view of the assimila-
tion process than most previous studies. In particular, we use internal census data to cal-
culate detailed characteristics for each subgroup of interest (e.g., average income of recent
black immigrants). This information allows us to estimate multivariate models that tease
out the association between residential patterns and nativity, length of time in the United
States, and group socioeconomic characteristics.
DATA AND METHODS
The data for this analysis were drawn from internal 1990 and 2000 long-form census fi les.
While residential segregation can occur at any geographic level, we chose to focus on
metropolitan areas as reasonable approximations of housing markets. We present estimates
for all metropolitan areas (MAs), which consist of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs),
primary metropolitan statistical areas (PMSAs), and for New England states, New England
county metropolitan areas (NECMAs). To ensure comparability, when presenting compa-
rable data for 1990 and 2000, we use the 2000 boundaries of county-based metropolitan
areas as defi ned by the Offi ce of Management and Budget (OMB) on June 30, 1999. Using
this defi nition, there are 318 MAs in the United States. However, our analyses include only
metropolitan areas where there are 1,000 or more members of a particular minority group
because segregation indexes for metropolitan areas with small minority populations are less
reliable than those with larger ones.1
To examine the distribution of different groups across neighborhoods within
metropolitan areas, we use census tracts. Census tracts typically have between 2,500 and
8,000 individuals, are defi ned with local input, are intended to represent neighborhoods,
and typically do not change much from census to census except to subdivide. In addition,
census tracts are by far the most used unit in research on residential segregation (e.g.,
Logan, Stults, and Farley 2004; Massey and Denton 1993).2 Thus, the data include infor-
mation on population counts for all racial groups and for Hispanics by census tract in all
metropolitan areas, as well as counts of these groups by nativity and, among the foreign-
born, year of entry. We exclude counts of individuals in institutional group quarters (such
The 1990 census collected information on four race groups: white; black; American
Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut; and Asian or Pacifi c Islander. There was an additional question
on whether an individual was of Hispanic origin. In the 1990s, after much research and
public comment, the OMB revised the racial classifi cation for the 2000 census to include
fi ve categories—white; black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native;
Asian; and Native Hawaiian or other Pacifi c Islander, as well as the additional Hispanic-
origin question—and allowed individuals to report more than one race. Census 2000 fi gures
indicate that 6.8 million, or 2.4% of the population, reported more than one race (Jones and
1. Random factors and geocoding errors are more likely to play a large role in determining the settlement
pattern of group members when fewer members are present, causing these indexes to contain greater volatility
(Iceland et al. 2002; Massey and Denton 1988a). The 1,000 group population cutoff, while inevitably somewhat
arbitrary, was also chosen by some other studies (e.g., Frey and Myers 2002; Glaeser and Vigdor 2001). The number
of MAs used in the analyses are indicated in Table 1.
2. Choosing a smaller unit of analysis increases segregation scores because smaller units tend to be more
homogenous (Iceland and Steinmetz 2003). Census tract and block-group-based scores, however, are extremely
highly correlated (0.99), so it is unlikely that using an alternative unit would affect conclusions about the relation-
ships studied here.
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 83
Smith 2001). This study focuses on the residential patterns of black, Hispanic, and Asian
and Pacifi c Islander immigrants, as well as non-Hispanic white immigrants in some analy-
ses (non-Hispanic whites are included in the analyses that focus on the foreign-born only
because U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites are the reference group in our segregation calcula-
tions). For 2000, minority groups in this analysis include those who identifi ed themselves
as being a member of that minority group either alone or in combination with another race.
Non-Hispanic whites consist of those who marked only white and who indicated that they
were not Hispanic. The reference group in the segregation calculations is U.S.-born non-
This analysis uses the index of dissimilarity to measure residential patterns. This is the
most common index in the segregation literature. The dissimilarity index is a metropolitan-
level summary measure that describes how evenly people of different groups are distributed
across neighborhoods within a metropolitan area. It ranges from 0 (complete integration)
to 1 (complete segregation) and specifi es the percentage of a group’s population that would
have to change residence for each neighborhood to have the same percentage of that group
as the metropolitan area overall. For example, if a metropolitan area is 20% black and 80%
white, then black-white dissimilarity will be 0 if every single neighborhood in the metro-
politan area is 20% black and 80% white. Dissimilarity is formally computed as
DxX y Y
where n is the number of tracts in a metropolitan area, xi is the population size of the minor-
ity group of interest in tract i, X is the population of the minority group in the metropolitan
area as a whole, yi is the population of the reference group (native-born non-Hispanic
whites in this analysis) in tract i, and Y is the population of the reference group in the met-
ropolitan area as a whole.
We also conducted the analyses with the isolation index (the second most commonly
used segregation index), though due to the length of the current study we limit our discussion
to dissimilarity. The conclusions do not change much when using the isolation index.4
We calculate metropolitan-level dissimilarity indexes in which native-born non-
Hispanic whites are the reference group (1) by race and Hispanic origin and nativity and
(2) among the foreign-born by race and Hispanic origin and year of entry. The cutoffs used
for length of time in the United States are 10 years or less, 11 to 20 years, 21 to 30 years,
3. Our more inclusive racial defi nitions mean that the minority group defi nitions are not mutually exclusive.
Some of those who are black may also, for example, be Asian. Other work has shown that adopting a race defi ni-
tion in which a person is considered in a group if he or she chooses only that particular group has little effect on
African American segregation calculations and a modest effect on Asian segregation calculations (Iceland et al.
2002: Appendix A). The similarity of scores across group defi nitions results, in large part, from the fact that the
proportion of people who marked two or more race groups in the 2000 census was small (2.4%). Hispanic indexes
are not affected by this specifi c issue since Hispanic origin is asked in a separate question. Methodologically, the
most important issue is to ensure that the two groups used in any given index calculation are mutually exclusive,
which is indeed the case in this analysis.
4. As with the dissimilarity index, results with the isolation index show that segregation from native-born
non-Hispanic whites is higher among foreign-born Hispanics, Asians, and blacks than the native-born of those
respective groups. One signifi cant difference in the results when using dissimilarity versus isolation is that group
characteristics, such as group size, play a larger role in explaining patterns of isolation of the foreign-born, as might
be expected. The isolation index is sensitive to the relative size of the group in question, while the dissimilarity
index, as a measure of evenness, is not. In addition, homeownership tends to be associated with higher levels of
isolation among Hispanic and black immigrants, though this relationship is statistically insignifi cant when using
dissimilarity. Results from both indexes provide general (though not unequivocal) support for the spatial assimila-
tion model. Results with the isolation index are available upon request.
84 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
and 31 years or more.5 Using 10-year categories permits us to see how segregation patterns
for approximate cohorts in 1990 changed by 2000.
The descriptive tables with segregation scores will be followed by a multivariate analy-
sis. The analysis is designed to answer the following question posed in the Introduction: to
what extent are patterns of segregation explained by the characteristics of immigrants, such
as socioeconomic status and other acculturation indicators? We further examine whether
the effect of these factors varies by racial and ethnic group.
We estimate the following model:
Yji = B0 + B1Xji + B2Zj + eji. (1)
where Yji is the dissimilarity score for metropolitan area j and group of interest i for each
metropolitan area where at least 1,000 group i members are present, Xji is a vector of group
i characteristics in metropolitan area j, and Zj is a vector of metropolitan characteristics for
metropolitan area j. The unit of analysis is the metropolitan area, though models include
multiple observations per metropolitan area that contain information on the different nativ-
ity or year-of-entry groups, depending on the model. As before, the reference group for
all the segregation calculations (Yji) is native-born non-Hispanic whites. We run separate
models for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.
This approach essentially follows Massey and Denton’s (1989) strategy of pooling
group metropolitan dissimilarity scores together and including dummy variables for each
group comparison. For example, when we examine Hispanic patterns of segregation by
nativity, each metropolitan area contributes up to two observations: one indicates the dis-
similarity index for U.S.-born Hispanics, and the other the dissimilarity index for foreign-
born Hispanics.6 A dummy variable for nativity will indicate whether dissimilarity scores
are higher for the foreign-born or U.S.-born.
In a second group of models, we examine year-of-entry groups among foreign-born
blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whites. Again, models are stratifi ed by race and ethnicity.
Four year-of-entry categories are used, mirroring the descriptive table: 1–10 years ago,
11–20 years ago, 21–30 years ago, and 31+ years ago. Thus, in these regressions, there are
up to four observations per metropolitan area. Because the same metropolitan areas are
included several times in all of the models, we produce corrected standard errors by using
generalized linear regression models that account for the correlated error structure among
the independent variables.
The X-vector variables in the regression models represent group i characteristics in
metropolitan area j. They include group size, English language profi ciency (percentage
who speak English very well or well), median income, and housing tenure (percentage
owning homes).7 These models are not strictly causal: segregation can affect groups’
levels of both socioeconomic attainment and English language profi ciency. Rather, our
goal is to examine the relationship between segregation and these group characteristics,
5. Different year-of-entry categories were tested using the 2000 census data to see whether patterns are
sensitive to their specifi cation. General patterns did not differ much, except that segregation for recent arrivals
was highest when this category was defi ned more narrowly; in particular, segregation was higher for “recent”
immigrants defi ned as arriving between 1995 and 2000 than for “recent” immigrants, defi ned as those arriving
from 1990 to 2000.
6. In the multivariate models for Hispanics in Table 2, for example, there are 524 observations. This number
consists of 290 metropolitan areas with at least 1,000 native-born Hispanics and another 234 with 1,000 or more
foreign-born Hispanics. Results do not differ if a constant set of metropolitan areas (where both groups are present
in suffi cient numbers) are analyzed.
7. We also ran models with occupation, citizenship, and education variables, but these were highly correlated
with income, English language profi ciency, and housing tenure. Our fi ndings on the general effects of acculturation
and socioeconomic status variables do not differ much when using alternative model specifi cations.
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 85
and how these characteristics might help explain the broader association between nativity
Z is a vector of metropolitan area characteristics that have been shown to be associated
with segregation (Frey and Farley 1996; Logan et al. 2004; Wilkes and Iceland 2004). This
includes metropolitan area size, percentage of the population that is minority, percentage
of the civilian labor force in manufacturing and government, percentage of the labor force
in the military, percentage of the population over 65 years old, proportion of the population
18 or older that is enrolled in school, percentage of housing units built in the last 10 years,
percentage of the metropolitan area population in the suburbs, and region.
All of the regression models are unweighted. Our models do, however, include con-
trols for both the size of the group in question (an Xji variable) and the log of the total
metropolitan population size (a Zi variable). Detailed characteristics of the sample by
race/ethnicity and nativity are available upon request. We present fi ndings of the rela-
tionship between these variables and dissimilarity in 2000. We also ran other models in
which the dependent variable represents changes in segregation for group of interest i
and metropolitan area j between 1990 and 2000, but do not present these results because
they show patterns similar to the cross-sectional models. These results are available upon
request as well.
Table 1 shows average levels of metropolitan residential segregation (i.e., the dissimilarity
index) of the foreign-born from native-born non-Hispanic whites by race/ethnicity, year-
of-entry cohort among the foreign-born, and census year. The segregation estimates are
weighted by the population size of the group in question. This gives relatively little weight
to metropolitan areas with small foreign-born populations. The table includes metropolitan
areas that contained at least 1,000 members of the group in question for all of the year-of-
entry intervals in both the 1990 and 2000 censuses. This method allows measurement of
the patterns of change for a fi xed set of metropolitan areas.8
Between 1990 and 2000, the overall dissimilarity index of the foreign-born rose
modestly from 0.411 to 0.443 (this difference is statistically signifi cant, as are all changes
described below), suggesting increasing segregation of the foreign-born from native-born
non-Hispanic whites. However, two other patterns emerge from the fi rst set of rows in the
table on all foreign-born people: (1) more-recent arrivals have higher levels of segrega-
tion than those who immigrated much earlier in both the 1990 and 2000 census data, and
(2) segregation for approximate year-of-entry cohorts also declined modestly from 1990
to 2000, except for pre-1970 arrivals.
Thus, according to 2000 census fi gures, the dissimilarity score for the foreign-born
who arrived between 1990 and 2000 was 0.517, though it was only 0.313 for immigrants
who arrived before 1970. Also, the dissimilarity score for those who arrived in the United
States between 1980 and 1989 was 0.493 in 2000, down from 0.514 in 1990, indicating
declining segregation for a particular cohort over time. The one exception is for those im-
migrants who arrived before 1970, for which the change in the dissimilarity score was not
statistically signifi cant. The cross-sectional data from 1990 and 2000 do not follow true
cohorts, only approximate ones. That is, some of the immigrants who were counted in 1990
were no longer in the United States in 2000 (via emigration or death).9 In both census years,
there may of course be some misreporting about timing of immigration.
8. Results are quite similar whether we include a fi xed set of metropolitan areas that meet the population
threshold in every year-of-entry category (as shown in the table) or we include all metropolitan areas that meet the
population threshold in a given category.
9. Those who were counted in 2000 but arrived in the 1980s were also not counted in 1990 if, for example,
they lived in a nonmetropolitan area in 1990 but moved to a metropolitan area sometime in the 1990s.
86 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
Table 1. Dissimilarity From Native-Born Non-Hispanic Whites by Race, Hispanic Origin, Nativity,
and Year of Entry: 1990 and 2000
All Foreign-born People
All foreign-born people 1990–2000
All foreign-born people 1980–1989
All foreign-born people 1970–1979
All foreign-born people < 1970
All foreign-born Hispanics
Foreign-born Hispanics 1990–2000
Foreign-born Hispanics 1980–1989
Foreign-born Hispanics 1970–1979
Foreign-born Hispanics < 1970
All Asians and Pacifi c Islanders
Native-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders
Foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders
All foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders
Foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders 1990–2000
Foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders 1980–1989
Foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders 1970–1979
Foreign-born Asians and Pacifi c Islanders < 1970
All foreign-born blacks
Foreign-born blacks 1990–2000
Foreign-born blacks 1980–1989
Foreign-born blacks 1970–1979
Foreign-born blacks < 1970
Foreign-born non-Hispanic whites
Foreign-born non-Hispanic whites 1990–2000
Foreign-born non-Hispanic whites 1980–1989
Foreign-born non-Hispanic whites 1970–1979
Foreign-born non-Hispanic whites < 1970
Source: 1990 and 2000 census data.
Notes: Includes metropolitan areas with at least 1,000 members of the group in question in 1990 and 2000. Means are
weighted by the size of the group. Higher values indicate more segregation.
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 87
Among Hispanics and Asians as a whole, we see a pattern of little change in dis-
similarity from 1990 to 2000. However, we also see that among all racial/ethnic groups,
the foreign-born are more segregated from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites than are the
U.S.-born of these groups. This fi nding is consistent with the predictions of spatial as-
similation theory. Mirroring fi ndings for the foreign-born as a whole, recent Hispanic and
Asian immigrants tend to have higher levels of segregation from U.S.-born non-Hispanic
whites than do Hispanics and Asians who have been in the United States longer according
to both 1990 and 2000 census data. Segregation declined for most approximate cohorts of
Hispanics in the 10 years between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, though changes for Asians
are not statistically signifi cant. Hispanic segregation from native-born non-Hispanic whites
is generally higher than Asian segregation.
The pattern for foreign-born blacks differs in some important respects from that of
Hispanics and Asians. The segregation of all blacks, U.S.-born blacks, and foreign-born
blacks from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites generally declined between the 1990 and 2000
censuses, in contrast to the trend for Hispanics and Asians, for which declines were not the
norm. However, when we look at data from either census, more recent arrivals do not have
higher dissimilarity scores than earlier arrivals. In addition, the small declines in dissimilar-
ity for approximate cohorts from 1990 to 2000 are not statistically signifi cant.
The pattern for foreign-born non-Hispanic whites is actually quite similar to patterns
for Hispanic and Asian immigrants, though the overall level of segregation for this group
(from native-born non-Hispanic whites) is appreciably lower. More-recent non-Hispanic
white immigrants have higher levels of segregation than those who have been in the United
States longer. We also see declines in segregation for recent cohorts, though little change
for those who came between 1970 and 1979 and actually increases among those arriving
The descriptive results above provide some support for the spatial assimilation per-
spective, though a few patterns are equivocal and there is some variation across racial
and ethnic groups. We now run a series of regressions to more clearly test the relationship
between segregation and race/ethnicity, nativity, and year of entry.
Table 2 shows multivariate results indicating the factors associated with the levels of seg-
regation of Hispanics, Asians, and blacks from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites in 2000.
Model 1 for Hispanics shows that, consistent with the spatial assimilation model, foreign-
born Hispanics are on average more segregated (0.148 points) from U.S.-born non-Hispanic
whites than are native-born Hispanics. In Model 2, the effect of nativity becomes statistically
insignifi cant. Further analyses (not shown) indicate that the characteristics of the foreign-
born in particular explain their higher levels of segregation, rather than characteristics of
the metropolitan areas in which they reside. Also consistent with spatial assimilation, we
fi nd that greater English fl uency among Hispanics is associated with lower Hispanic-white
segregation. Metropolitan areas with large populations, with a greater percentage minority,
and in the Northeast and Midwest have higher levels of Hispanic-white segregation. Those
with more-recent home construction have lower levels of segregation.11
Results from Model 1 in Table 2 for Asians indicate that, again consistent with spa-
tial assimilation, foreign-born Asians are more segregated from U.S.-born non-Hispanic
whites than are U.S.-born Asians. The coeffi cient for the foreign-born among Asians
10. That segregation increased between 1990 and 2000 for those who entered the United States before 1970
could refl ect a compositional change in that group: in 1990, a higher proportion of those immigrants came from
the pre-1920 immigration boom, whereas by 2000, a number of those immigrants had died, and the population
therefore consisted more of immigrants who arrived in later years.
11. The differences between models discussed here and those below are all statistically signifi cant according
to likelihood ratio chi-square tests.
88 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
Table 2. Generalized Linear Regressions Indicating the Association Between Group and Metro-
politan Characteristics With Levels of Dissimilarity of Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks From
Native-Born Non-Hispanic Whites, 2000
Hispanic Asian Black
___________________ ____________________ ___________________
Model 1 Model 2 Model 1
0.378** 0.528** 0.388**
Foreign-born 0.148** –0.021 0.043** 0.017 0.120** 0.083**
Other Group-Specifi c Characteristics
Group size (10,000s)
% speaking English very well/
Median household income
% owning a home
0.000 0.001** 0.001**
–0.436** –0.216** –0.222*
Metropolitan Area Characteristics
Log of total population
% in manufacturing
% in government
% in military
% over 65 years old
% of population enrolled
% of housing units built in
last 10 years
% of population in suburbs
–0.174 –0.198* –0.470**
524 524 469 469 428 428
447.934 663.691 555.415 691.410 301.567 515.924
Note: Th e table includes metropolitan areas with at least 1,000 members of the group in question. See the text for details.
*p < .05; **p < .01
(0.043) is smaller than the corresponding one for Hispanics (0.148). As with Hispanics,
the foreign-born dummy variable becomes statistically insignifi cant in Model 2 (again due
to group characteristics rather than to metropolitan characteristics). Greater English fl u-
ency, homeownership levels, and income among Asians are associated with lower levels
of Asian-white segregation. The effect of income is weaker and less robust than the other
indicators. The group size variable is positively associated with segregation. Metropolitan
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 89
areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and South all have higher Asian-white segregation than
those in the West. Metropolitan areas with newer home construction have lower levels of
segregation, though those with relatively large suburban populations have higher Asian-
Results in Model 1 of Table 2 for blacks indicate that foreign-born blacks are also more
segregated from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites than are U.S.-born blacks. However, unlike
in Model 2 for Hispanics and Asians, group and metropolitan characteristics do not explain
the Model 1 relationship. This is in part due to the fact that black immigrants tend to be of
higher average socioeconomic status than native-born blacks. Model 2 shows that higher
median income is associated with lower levels of black-white segregation. Group size is
positively associated with segregation. That the nativity coeffi cient remains signifi cant in
Model 2 signifi es that unidentifi ed characteristics play a role in the particularly high levels
of segregation between foreign-born blacks and U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites.
Overall, the results in Table 2 provide support for the spatial assimilation model: the
foreign-born are more segregated from non-Hispanic whites than are the U.S.-born, and
group characteristics are associated with segregation in expected ways. While these rela-
tionships apply to blacks as well, the overall high levels of black-white segregation indicate
greater overall spatial polarization between these groups than among Hispanics and whites
and Asians and whites.
Table 3 shows results for the foreign-born by year of entry. The reference group for
these segregation indexes is the same as before: U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites. The Model
1 association between year-of-entry and segregation for foreign-born Hispanics and whites
are quite similar—the more time in the United States, the lower the segregation from U.S.-
born non-Hispanic whites. When controls are added (Model 2), the associations all become
statistically insignifi cant, except among foreign-born whites who immigrated 31 or more
years ago, who show particularly low levels of segregation from U.S.-born non- Hispanic
whites. More than immigrants of other racial and ethnic groups, this group of f oreign-born
whites likely contains many people who immigrated quite a few decades ago.12
Further analyses not shown indicate that the year-of-entry coeffi cients become insig-
nifi cant in Model 2 for Hispanic and white immigrants mainly because longer-term resi-
dents have characteristics associated with lower levels of segregation (e.g., higher English
language fl uency or higher incomes). The large differences in segregation by year-of-entry
among white immigrants, and the strong association between group characteristics and
segregation, suggests that the spatial assimilation model is particularly good at explaining
the residential segregation patterns of foreign-born whites.
Among Asians, the coeffi cients for those who immigrated 11–20 years ago and 21–30
year ago are quite similar to those found in the Hispanic and white models. However, the
31+ coeffi cient is statistically insignifi cant. Moreover, in the full model, this group actu-
ally displays higher levels of segregation than do recent arrivals (the coeffi cients for the
other year-of-entry groups become statistically insignifi cant). This indicates that levels of
segregation would be even higher among these long-term immigrants if they did not have
characteristics associated with lower levels of segregation (e.g., higher levels of English
language ability and homeownership), for reasons we cannot identify.
Among blacks, only those who arrived 11–20 years ago have lower levels of segrega-
tion than the most recent arrivals, and this relationship becomes statistically insignifi cant in
the full model. Higher incomes are associated with lower levels of segregation. For blacks,
the very small difference in patterns of segregation by year-of-entry in Model 1 is not con-
sistent with the spatial assimilation perspective, though the negative association between
segregation and income is.
12. The differences between models discussed here and those that follow are all statistically signifi cant ac-
cording to likelihood ratio chi-square tests.
90 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
Table 3. Generalized Linear Regressions Indicating the Association Between Group and Metropolitan
Characteristics With Levels of Dissimilarity of the Foreign-Born, by Race and Ethnicity,
From Native-Born Non-Hispanic Whites, 2000
Hispanic Asian Black White
_________________ _________________ _________________ _________________
Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2
0.604** 0.315** 0.528** 0.503** 0.744** 0.476* 0.460** 0.411**
Year of Entry to the
1–10 years ago (omitted)
11–20 years ago
21–30 years ago
31+ years ago
Other Group-Specifi c
Group size (10,000s)
% speaking English
% owning a home
–0.001 0.000 –0.001 –0.007*
–0.164* –0.150* –0.105 –0.204**
Log of total population
% in manufacturing
% in government
% in military
% over 65 years old
% of population
enrolled in college
% of housing units built
in last 10 years
% of population in
–0.290 –0.161 –1.468** –0.395**
–0.336** –0.170** –0.235 –0.011
–0.084** –0.002 –0.031 –0.040
507.789 678.238 616.042 734.762 236.835 309.989 630.518 776.689
559 535 535 208 208 569 569
Notes: Th e table includes metropolitan areas with at least 1,000 members of the group in question. See the text for details.
*p < .05; **p < .01
Immigrant Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas 91
The goal of this study was to examine whether spatial assimilation theory provides a
good framework for understanding immigrant residential segregation patterns. We used
restricted-use data from the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses to calculate dissimilarity
indexes for Hispanic, Asian, black, and white immigrants in all U.S. metropolitan areas,
using native-born non-Hispanic whites as the reference group. We then conducted multi-
variate analyses to determine the extent to which differences in residential segregation can
be explained by average immigrant group characteristics—such as socioeconomic status
and English language ability—and metropolitan characteristics. Our fi ndings provide broad
support for spatial assimilation theory.
In support of spatial assimilation, we fi nd that the foreign-born Hispanics, Asians, and
blacks are more segregated from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites than are the U.S.-born of
those groups. In addition, many of the patterns can be explained by the average characteris-
tics of the foreign-born that are generally associated with higher levels of segregation, such
as lower levels of income and less English language fl uency. We also fi nd that immigrants
who have been in the United States for longer periods are generally less segregated than
new arrivals, and once again, much of this difference can be attributed to the characteristics
of these immigrants.
Patterns, however, vary across groups. Levels of segregation from non-Hispanic whites
are much higher for black immigrants than for Asian and Hispanic immigrants. In addition,
because black immigrants are, on average, of higher socioeconomic status than U.S.-born
blacks, such characteristics do little to explain their very high levels of segregation. We
also fi nd that non-Hispanic white immigrants are moderately less segregated than Asian
and Hispanic immigrants. Moreover, the strong association between white immigrant char-
acteristics and segregation in the expected direction suggests that the spatial assimilation
model is particularly good at explaining the residential segregation patterns of foreign-born
whites. Thus, these results suggest that the extent and pace of spatial assimilation among
immigrants is affected by their race and ethnicity. In absolute terms, levels of segregation
from U.S.-born non-Hispanic whites are high for black immigrants, moderate for Hispanic
and Asian immigrants, and low to moderate for white immigrants.
It could thus be argued that, overall, very high levels of segregation among black im-
migrants in particular provide support for the segmented assimilation perspective. Clearly,
black immigrants live in very different neighborhoods than non-Hispanic whites, regard-
less of their characteristics. However, the fact that we see some differences among blacks
by nativity, albeit quite small, and some effect of socioeconomic characteristics, mainly
income, suggests that support for segmented assimilation (as opposed to spatial assimila-
tion) is not unequivocal.
When we examined change between 1990 and 2000, results were often consistent with
the spatial assimilation model. While the foreign-born as a whole became more segregated
between 1990 and 2000, it was mainly because more-recent arrivals in a given census year
had higher levels of segregation than those who immigrated earlier. When we looked at
change for approximate cohorts of immigrants, we found that many (though not all) ex-
perienced small declines in dissimilarity, particularly among Hispanic and non-Hispanic
white immigrants. This suggests that the main reason for the overall increase in segregation
for the foreign-born between the censuses was due to a compositional shift: many of the
foreign-born are recent arrivals.
The implication of these analyses’ support for the spatial assimilation model is that im-
migrant families will tend to live in more integrated environments the longer they remain
in the United States—often as they become more acculturated and gain in socioeconomic
status. This is consistent with the view that residential racial/ethnic polarization is not
increasing and is perhaps even likely to decline in the future. For example, just as white
92 Demography, Volume 45-Number 1, February 2008
ethnic groups at one time occupied very different residential niches and thought of them-
selves as being very different groups, over time, many of these differences diminished and
residential ethnic enclaves weakened (Waters 1990).
Two sets of fi ndings provide reason to be cautious about drawing this conclusion too
fi rmly. First, despite some declines in black segregation in the 1990s, blacks and black im-
migrants continue to be considerably more segregated from whites than are other groups.
Black-white racial polarization and the continued—albeit declining— discrimination
against blacks in the housing market still likely play important roles in shaping residential
patterns (Ross and Turner 2005). Whether the long-run trend of moderate declines in black
segregation continues and eventually translates into less polarization and greater integration
for black immigrants as well will be an important issue to track in the coming years.
Second, that group characteristics often help explain relatively high levels of segre-
gation among some groups—and Hispanic immigrants in particular—also has important
implications. While it suggests that spatial assimilation processes are at work that could
reduce segregation over the longer run, continued high levels of Hispanic immigration,
largely consisting of people with low socioeconomic status—precisely the characteristics
associated with high levels of dissimilarity—suggests that we should in fact witness in-
creasing levels of segregation for Hispanics in the short- (and medium-) run. Over time, we
may see declines in Hispanic segregation because second- and third-generation Hispanics
tend to experience upward mobility (Bean and Stevens 2003).
Finally, although the purpose of this analysis was to shed light on general national pat-
terns, some questions remain unanswered. For one, it would be useful to look at patterns
of specifi c groups in more detail, as there is much intragroup variation in both the histori-
cal context of immigration and the characteristics of the immigrants themselves. Another
avenue for future research would be to comparatively examine settlement patterns in a just
few metropolitan areas; such an analysis would amplify some of the broad fi ndings here.
Coordinated case studies focusing on where different immigrants settle and how settlement
changes over time and across cohorts would provide greater detail about the spatial assimi-
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