American Sociological Association

White Integration or Segregation? The Racial and Ethnic Transformation of Rural and Small Town America

Rural America has seemingly been “left behind” in an era of massive immigration and growing diversity. The arrival of new immigrants has exposed many rural whites, perhaps for the first time, to racial and ethnic minority populations. Do rural whites increasingly live in racially diverse nonmetropolitan places? Or is white exposure to racially diverse populations expressed in uneven patterns of residential integration from place to place? We link microdata from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (1989‐to‐2009 waves) to place data identified in the 1990–2010 decennial censuses. We estimate multilevel, fixed‐effects models of rural white exposure to minority populations that involve linking individual predictors to changing demographic and economic local environments. Using entropy scores, our analyses highlight the extraordinary rise since 1990 in exposure of all rural populations, including whites, to racially diverse communities. Variation in white exposure to rural minorities is driven primarily by changing local demographic and economic conditions. Net of individual background characteristics, whites are significantly less likely to live in racially diverse places than other ethnoracial groups. White population growth is occurring disproportionately in the least racially diverse rural communities. For blacks and other minorities, growth is taking place disproportionately in the most racially diverse places.


Daniel T. Lichter, Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino





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