Hypersegregation occurs when a race/ethnic group is highly segregated in multiple ways, no matter how segregation is conceptualized or measured. It is an explicit recognition of the fact that residential segregation by race is a complex phenomenon that is multidimensional in nature. First used in 1989 in an article by Massey and Denton about patterns of black-white segregation in large US metropolitan areas in 1980, the term now occurs in both the academic and popular literature to describe the extremely high residential segregation experienced by African Americans in the US. Though residential segregation has generally declined in recent decades for African Americans, hypersegregation was still documented for African Americans in both 1990 and 2000. For the first time in 2000, His panics are hypersegregated in two places as well. No other group experiences hypersegregation in US metropolitan areas.

The complex, multidimensional nature of segregation reflects the historical causes of racial residential segregation, which include prejudice, discrimination, the behavior of realtors and mortgage and insurance agents, as well as the FHA and the development of the suburbs. Associated with the Chicago School, segregation is used to gauge the spatial assimilation of diverse groups into US society, beginning with comparisons of the residential patterns of European immigrant groups to native born whites and blacks. The theory was that as groups became more similar to native born Americans in terms of language, education, income, and occupations, they would also reside in similar areas. The study of segregation is also linked to the development of long term amortized mortgages for housing purchase. Though these enabled many people to own their own homes, the mortgages necessitated that the lender have some way of knowing that the home would still be valuable decades hence, and the future value was linked to characteristics of the neighborhoods where houses were located, including the race of the neighborhood residents. The tremendous post World War II housing boom, combined with the baby boom and suburban development, resulted in urban landscapes that some described as ”chocolate city, vanilla suburbs.” In recent decades, residential segregation of blacks has been linked to the development of underclass areas where the spatial concentration of poverty also concentrates other social ills such as crime, joblessness, single parenthood, low levels of educational attainment, etc. Even for the non poor, the linkage between housing appreciation and neighborhood and their exclusion from such neighborhoods, combined with denial of mortgages and higher rates of interest, has been estimated to have cost the current generation of blacks almost $95 billion in lost assets (Oliver & Shapiro 1995). This brief history of residential segregation serves to illustrate the complexity of it. Throughout all of these studies the segregation of African Americans always stood out because it was so consistently high across cities and over time. The concept of hypersegregation was developed as a way of measuring and describing this uniqueness.

Conceptually, hypersegregation occurs when a group has high segregation scores on four or five different dimensions of segregation. The first dimension is evenness: the extent to which all the neighborhoods in a metropolitan area show the same distribution of groups as the total area. Thus, if an area is 20 percent black and 80 percent white, there would be no segregation if each neighborhood had that racial distribution as well. Evenness is measured by the Index of Dissimilarity (D), the most commonly used measure of segregation. The next dimension is isolation: the extent to which a group shares its neighborhoods with only members of its own group. While evenness looks at distributions across all neighborhoods in a city or metropolitan area, isolation provides the view from within neighborhoods. A group may live in only a subset of the neighborhoods in a city, but if those neighborhoods are relatively integrated the group has contacts outside their group and their segregation is not as severe as when their neighborhoods are occupied only by their own group. The third dimension, concentration, refers to the relative proportion of the total land area a group occupies, relative to the group’s size. This dimension addresses the issues of crowding, population density, and the advantages associated with housing on spacious suburban lots. Centralization, the fourth dimension, measures how close to the central business district a group resides. In the past, the central business district was not a desirable place to live because of the presence of factories, and in more recent years it reflects the disadvantage associated with not living in the suburbs, where many jobs are now located. The last dimension of segregation, clustering, looks at whether the neighborhoods where a group lives are themselves clustered into one large area or are scattered throughout the metropolitan area. It addresses the aspect of whether a group member, regardless of the composition of their neighborhood of residence, interacts with non group members if they leave their neighbor hood. In hypersegregated metropolitan areas, black neighborhoods tend to form large contiguous ghettos.

The five dimensions used to measure hyper segregation were identified through a factor analysis of 20 different segregation indices, computed for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in 60 metropolitan areas in 1980 (the 50 largest plus ten others with large Hispanic populations) (Massey & Denton 1988). After selecting a single index for each dimension, a group was defined as hypersegregated when their segregation was above a cutoff on four or five of the dimensions. The original criteria for defining hypersegregation were 0.6 for indices of evenness and clustering, 0.7 for isolation and concentration, and 0.8 for clustering (Massey & Denton 1988), though in later work (Massey & Denton 1993) the cutoff was simplified to 0.6 for all dimensions. The choice of a cutoff reflects the fact that in the literature segregation above 0.6 is usually considered high when indices range between 0 and 1. In a reanalysis of the dimensions of segregation for the same metropolitan areas using data from 1990, Massey, White, and Phua (1996) found that the clustering dimension was not as clearly defined in 1990. These researchers also analyzed all 318 metropolitan areas and found that the original five dimensions of segregation identified in 1980 were clearly observable in 1990, indicating that the structure of segregation had changed somewhat in the largest metropolitan areas, possibly because of the increased presence of Hispanics and Asians in these places, but that segregation could clearly be defined as comprising five dimensions in 1990 as in 1980. In terms of which index best represented each dimension, however, the choice was not as clear for clustering and concentration.

In summary, to define hypersegregation requires three decisions: first, which index will be used to measure each of the five dimensions; second, what value of each index will be considered “high”; and third, on how many of the five dimensions must a group be highly segregated to be called hypersegregated. Choices on each of these are made based on both the extant literature and the judgment of the researchers: in short, there is no absolutely correct choice, and changes will yield different lists of hyper segregated places and groups. While this may at first seem to imply that hypersegregation is an arbitrary idea, what it really reflects is that segregation is a continuous variable. Furthermore, as will be seen when specific hypersegregated places are discussed below, varying these choices does not dramatically change the overall pattern of results.

Where does hypersegregation occur and does its location change over time? Using data from the 1980 US Census, ten metropolitan areas were originally identified as hypersegregated: Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia on all five dimensions, and Gary, Los Angeles, Newark, and St. Louis on four dimensions (Massey & Denton 1989). As noted above, these were selected by examining the 50 largest metropolitan areas in 1980, as well as ten others with large Hispanic populations. In 1993 an additional six areas were added to the list as a result of modifying the criteria for defining hypersegregation to be 0.6 for all indices: Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and New York. Thus, in 1980 hypersegregation was most often found in larger, formerly industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest that had large African American populations. A decade later, looking at the same 60 metropolitan areas originally used, Denton (1994) found that African Americans in all of these metropolitan areas remained hypersegregated except those in Atlanta and Dallas. In addition, examination of black segregation in the remaining metropolitan areas revealed hypersegregation of African Americans in an additional 15 metropolitan areas. While eight are smaller metropolitan areas located in the South (Albany, GA, Baton Rouge, LA, Beaumont Port Arthur, TX, Monroe, LA, and Savannah GA) or Midwest (Benton Harbor, MI, Flint, MI, and Saginaw Bay City Midland, MI), the other seven are large metro areas, implying substantial black populations living in hypersegregated conditions: Birmingham, AL, Cincinnati, OH, Miami Hialeah, FL, New Orleans, LA, Oakland, CA, Trenton, NJ, Washington, DC.

Research using data from the 2000 census reveals the continuance of hypersegregation for African Americans, as well as the emergence of hypersegregation for Hispanics. Wilkes and Iceland (2004) identify 29 metropolitan areas with black-white hypersegregation in 2000: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Newark, and Philadelphia on all five dimensions, and Albany, GA, Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Beaumont Port Arthur, Birmingham, Buffalo Niagara Falls, Dayton Springfield, Flint, Gary, Houston, Jackson, Kankakee, IL, Los Angeles Long Beach, Miami, Memphis, Mobile, Mon roe, LA, New Orleans, New York, Saginaw Bay City, MI, St. Louis, and Washington, DC on four dimensions. While most of these were also hypersegregated in 1990, Wilkes and Iceland used a different index to measure concentration than the one recommended by Massey and Denton. If a consistent set of indices is used across the three censuses, then nine metropolitan areas drop off the list of those hypersegregated in 2000 (Benton Harbor, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Oak land, Savannah, and Trenton), though they remain highly segregated. However, three areas (Atlanta, Dayton, and Mobile) became hypersegregated in 2000. In addition, Hispanics in Los Angeles and New York are found to be hypersegregated in 2000.

Why is hypersegregation important? The multidimensional layers of segregation implied by hypersegregation mean that to the extent that blacks living in these places are denied access to the spatial resources in terms of schools, jobs, safety, and housing value appreciation that whites experience, then hypersegregation is a factor supporting the disadvantaged status of blacks in metropolitan America. It is of particular importance that Hispanics in New York and Los Angeles are now experiencing hypersegregation as well, for there is little reason to expect that it will not have similar effects for African Americans. Future research on hypersegregation will have to confront the fact that, currently, hypersegregation is defined relative to non Hispanic whites. While this group is the most socioeconomically privileged, controls the opportunity structure in most metropolitan areas, and is usually the largest group numerically, metropolitan areas are increasingly diverse. Future studies of hypersegregation will have to include more groups and use multiple group indices such as the Theil Index, which is just beginning to be used in segregation studies (Fischer 2003; Fischer et al. 2004). In addition, increasing heterogeneity within  groups,  in both income and suburban location, implies that future work may show that some members of a group live in hypersegregated conditions while others do not (Alba et al. 2000; Fischer 2003).


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