Beyond the Census Tract: Patterns and Determinants of Racial Segregation at Multiple Geographic Scales

Am Sociol Rev. 2008 Oct;73(5):766-791. doi: 10.1177/000312240807300504.


The census tract-based residential segregation literature rests on problematic assumptions about geographic scale and proximity. We pursue a new tract-free approach that combines explicitly spatial concepts and methods to examine racial segregation across egocentric local environments of varying size. Using 2000 census data for the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, we compute a spatially modified version of the information theory index H to describe patterns of black-white, Hispanic-white, Asian-white, and multi-group segregation at different scales. The metropolitan structural characteristics that best distinguish micro-segregation from macro-segregation for each group combination are identified, and their effects are decomposed into portions due to racial variation occurring over short and long distances. A comparison of our results to those from tract-based analyses confirms the value of the new approach.