Young adults are driving the country's increasing racial and ethnic diversity but what impact are they having at the neighborhood level when it comes to segregation? A new study suggests that, in general, young adults leaving their parents' homes are moving into more diverse neighborhoods, but found that where their parents lived had a strong connection to the kind of neighborhood they then moved into as young adults.
Using longitudinal data, William Clark of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Noli Brazil of the University of California, Davis, followed a nationally representative sample of individuals who were 11 to 18 years old in 1994-1995 until they were 24 to 32 years old, as they moved away from, or stayed in, their parents' neighborhoods. Given survey data and research that suggests that younger generations are "more open to integration" and "integrative choices" and attitudes, like "interracial dating, reception to immigrants and acceptance of non-traditional family arrangements," the scholars expected that young adults may be more likely to select more diverse neighborhoods than their parents did. And, generally, the researchers found this to be true. But the racial composition of the parents' neighborhood still seemed to matter on the relative level of segregation of the neighborhood where the young adult settled.
The study findings, published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, offer a complex chapter in an ongoing debate about segregation. Residential segregation remains a hallmark of many cities, so much so that historian and author Richard Rothstein calls it the "last remaining and the biggest form of segregation." But others, note the researchers, have declared the "end of the segregated century." And though the researchers cite data that reflect attitudinal shifts among younger, more diverse populations, neighborhood selection doesn't just reflect preference. Given the legacy of government-backed segregation and ongoing discrimination in real estate and lending, decisions about where to live are as much reflections of choice as they are of constraints.
Still, it's worth understanding the movements of young adults to better understand mobility and neighborhood change.
To do this, the researchers, using data that followed only moves within and not between cities, looked at how the neighborhood percent share of an individual's own race changed as that individual went from an adolescent to a young adult. They analyzed the results based on factors including race, income and educational attainment. When looking by race at the young adults who moved, the researchers found that white individuals who moved were "by and large in less-White neighborhoods than those they grew up in" but that they "tend to be in neighborhoods with a greater presence of own-race neighbors" than their non-white peers.
In short, the authors write, "Change is happening, and though we can ask whether these patterns will continue, they are strong evidence of more diverse selections for the early moves of young adults....driven largely by the choices of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.”
There's an important question here about the durability of such choices, particularly amid conversations about gentrification and neighborhood change. "We do not know," the authors write, "whether the findings for young adults are a precursor of new patterns of integration and greater diversity or simply expressions of first moves into the housing market."
The analysis also found a connection between educational attainment and neighborhood selection such that black and Hispanic movers with higher levels of educational attainment tended to end up in neighborhoods with lower percentages of their own race or ethnicity but the opposite was true for Asian young adults who moved neighborhoods. Income seemed less predictive, with the authors speculating that "the influence of income may come at a later stage when careers, household formation and housing capital are established."
But one of the strongest correlations was the relative diversity of the neighborhood the young adult lived in as an adolescent compared to where they lived as a young adult. "Adolescent neighborhood percentage own race—which reflects parental choices—shows a strong influence on young adult neighborhood percentage own race for all race/ethnic groups," the authors conclude, "revealing that despite the range and variety displayed by the descriptive box plots, the influence of parental neighborhood choices continues to persist as adolescents transition out of the parental household."
The study is a "first step" in many ways, but it makes the case for evaluating the housing moves of young adults on their own to better understand mobility within cities and the factors that affect neighborhood segregation. The results, argue the authors, "reflect the transitional nature of young adulthood and, more broadly, the racial, economic and political complexity of the millennial generation."