The Historical Demography of Racial Segregation

Angelina Grigoryeva, Princeton University
Martin Ruef, Duke University

Both spatial and aspatial measures of residential segregation equate spatial proximity with social distance. This assumption has been increasingly subject to critique by demographers and becomes especially problematic in historical settings. In the late 19th-century United States, standard measures suggest a counter-intuitive pattern: Southern cities, with their long history of racial inequality, had less residential segregation than urban areas considered to be more racially tolerant. Following classic accounts, we argue that traditional measures do not capture a more subtle “backyard” pattern of segregation in the South, where white families dominated front streets and blacks were relegated to alleys. We develop a sequence index that captures street-front segregation and examine its validity and reliability. Our analysis of complete household data from the 1880 Census suggests that the backyard pattern can be explained historically by the density of a city’s black population, the recency of its experiences with slavery, and the occupational structure of the black labor force.

  See paper

Presented in Session 37: Demography and Ethno-Racial Inequality I