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L.A. minorities live in segregation, work in integration

Study says racial integration at work may bring integration at home

A Dartmouth geographer has found that racial groups in Los Angeles are more segregated by where they live than by where they work.

Richard Wright
Richard Wright (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Richard Wright, Professor of Geography, with his colleagues Mark Ellis, Professor of Geography at the University of Washington, and Virginia Parks, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, analyzed both where people live and work in greater Los Angeles, and developed maps to illustrate shifts in racial segregation between work and home. From this new way of visualizing urban racial segregation, the authors speculate that more racial mixing in the workplace plays a role in increased interracial partnering, which in turn may ultimately influence residential segregation patterns.

The study, "Work Together, Live Apart? Geographies of Racial and Ethnic Segregation at Home and at Work," was published in the September 2004 issue of the journal Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

"This research is a new way to help us understand the ebbs and flows of daily life in a large metropolitan area," says Wright.

Wright, Ellis and Parks examined the eight largest immigrant groups (Mexicans, Salvadorans, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Iranians) and the four largest native-born racial groups (whites, Latinos, blacks, and Asians). Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, they used unpublished data from the 1990 Census of Population and Housing, which provided both a large sample size and allowed for detailed analysis of individual home and work neighborhoods.

"The maps of where different groups live and work are stunning," says Wright. "Different groups clearly live clustered together, but when these individuals go to work, they change the complexion of neighborhoods. For example, Beverly Hills is home to predominantly white residents, but is also the domain of racially diverse workers. Ours is the first study to use this large data sample to map this racial home/work relationship across a metropolitan area."

This study demonstrates how ethnic and racial geographies in the greater Los Angeles area fluctuate daily between where people live and work, and it suggests that people have more interracial contact during the workday than previously understood.

Nevertheless, the researchers found that groups that were most segregated by place of residence were also most segregated by place of work. Notably, blacks are the most segregated at home and at work. In contrast, immigrants from Mexico and whites disperse much more during the workday. The study found that white men and Mexican men are more likely to share neighborhoods during the workday than other groups. This research also indicates that men are more likely to interact with men from other groups at work than are women.

"Because residential neighborhoods remain racially segregated, our study suggests that the mixing of groups at work probably stimulates increases in the number of interracial families," says Wright, "and the increasing number of interracial families lays the foundation for the future desegregation of many residential neighborhoods and beyond."


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Last Updated: 12/17/08