Voting with Your Feet Does Not Lead to Segregation

Recent evidence suggests it actually reduces it.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A longstanding concern about "voting with your feet" is the fear that it will increase racial and ethnic segregation. Given the opportunity, most people might choose to "stick to their own kind" or at least avoid historically unpopular minority groups. Recent data, however, paints a very different picture. Far from exacerbating segregation, residential mobility actually seems to reduce it. Bloomberg economics columnist Noah Smith summarizes some of the data here:

Surprisingly, evidence seems to show that Americans are increasingly open to living in diverse neighborhoods. A 2016 paper by the National University of Singapore's Kwan Ok Lee finds that since 1990, white flight and white avoidance of black neighborhoods has decreased dramatically. In fact, white Americans in recent decades have tended to move toward diversity rather than away from it.

Urban economist Joe Cortright, blogging at City Observatory, summarizes the results. Lee looks at U.S. Census tracts, neighborhoods that on average have about 4,000 residents. In addition to the racial makeup of neighborhoods, she was able to track where individuals moved to and from.

Lee's first finding is that American neighborhoods are becoming more diverse. Majority-white neighborhoods were about two-thirds of the total from 1970 to 1990, but during the next two decades that number was only 57 percent. The probability of single-race neighborhoods becoming mixed increased substantially. Meanwhile, a small but growing number of neighborhoods have a substantial numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics or Asians….

Lee's final finding is the most striking. She found that once Americans move to a mixed-race neighborhood, they tend to either stay there, or move to another mixed neighborhood. This is true for both white and black Americans. In other words, neighborhood diversity isn't just a result of changing demographics, but of Americans choosing to live near people of other races.

These findings are not as surprising as they might seem. Even if people do not care about ethnic diversity for its own sake, diverse areas have important advantages that many potential foot voters value, including greater economic growth and job opportunities. The evidence of foot voting decisions is also consistent with other data indicating increasing racial and ethnic tolerance, such as increasing rates of interracial marriage.

Evidence indicating that Americans are becoming more tolerant may seem difficult to square with the alarming growth of poisonous identity politics on both left and right, exemplified by the rise of Donald Trump, among other things. One possible way to reconcile the seeming contradiction is that Trumpism represents a revolt of the old order, not the wave of the future. This is consistent with the fact that his support is overwhelmingly drawn from older, lesser-educated whites. It is also likely that people's foot-voting decisions are based on greater knowledge and more careful consideration than their choices at the ballot-box. Those who vote for dangerously divisive politicians may behave very differently in other aspects of their lives.

The available evidence also undercuts a closely related concern about foot voting: the claim that it leads to a "big sort" under which people cluster with those who have similar political views.

This is not to suggest that all is entirely well in the realm of foot voting. Many people who would like to move to diverse and economically dynamic areas are prevented from doing so by zoning restrictions that artificially inflate the price of housing. This, along with restrictive licensing, creates barriers to mobility that severely impede the ability of both minorities and poor whites to improve their lives by voting with their feet. If we want to expand opportunity for the poor, increase economic growth, and further diminish residential segregation, breaking down obstacles to mobility would be a great place to start.


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  1. People that ruin municipality X or state Y move somewhere better, yes, but tend to bring along the same values that led them to vote with their feet.

    1. This is nonsense.

      1. No, that’s a valid observation many people have made. It’s all too often that people flee a bad situation, but bring to their refuge the values and habits that created the situation in the first place.

        1. Look at how Boston ruined other states in New England. Or California has fucked over Colorado. People keep moving, but institute the bad place elsewhere.

          1. The most consequential moves involve bright flight.

            The smart, ambitious young people depart a rural or southern backwater at high school graduation — pursing education and opportunity on distant campuses or in modern, successful communities — and tend not to return. Over generations, this creates a depleted human residue in those can’t-keep-up communities.

            Those who remain chose quick pocket money — a job at the factory, perhaps, or the car wash —
            over education. They stuck with dying industries and declining towns against all evidence. They had children before ready to fund or lead a family, then sent those children to backwater religious schools. The result is a concentration of dysfunction, disaffection, dependence, and insularity.

            Unwilling to accept accountability for their circumstances, they blame others– blacks, gays, educated women, immigrants, bankers, atheists, Jews, journalists, professors, whomever comes to mind — for their self-inflicted problems. They see street pills, televangelists, tobacco, lottery tickets, bigotry, cheap sixers, guns, disability claims,and Donald Trump as solutions to their problems.

            1. In successful communities, doctors marry lawyers, accountants live with entrepreneurs, and two or three generations of earners reside together. In the can’t-keep-up towns, many families lack a single marketably skilled, educated provider.

              I believe it imperative to maintain that strong lifeline for young people who wish to escape (although that aggravates the problem at the wrong end of bright flight). A decent person never faults a child for having losers for parents, and we need all of the skilled, educated, tolerant, modern citizens we can get.

              1. The result is a concentration of dysfunction, disaffection, dependence, and insularity.

                It’s hilarious that you’re always ragging on “rural backwaters” when urban school districts are among the worst in the country. There’s a reason most white liberal urbanites send their kids to charter or private schools.

                In the Denver area, the “bright flight” is white people moving to other school districts so they don’t have to go to school with minorities. Districts like Aurora Public and Adams 50 were always working-class districts that coincidentally went into the toilet once they became majority-minority.

                1. Many urban school districts (and communities) are deplorable. They should be improved.

                  This does not improve the conditions, or reduce the accountability among the residents of, associated with our bright-flight-ravaged backwaters.

                  1. Many urban school districts (and communities) are deplorable. They should be improved.

                    50 years of failure says you’re delusional.

                    1. Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and a few other states are here (in some cases, mainly because we erred in enabling them to resume statehood after the Civil War) to tell you that 50 years of failure is a picnic with a cherry on top.

                    2. Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina are populated by large African-American communities.

                      Oklahoma has some of the largest concentrations of Native Americans in the country.

                      West Virginia, Wyoming, and Utah are among our safest states.

                      It’s precious how provincial you proglydytes get when it comes to state lines when you can’t even get your urban feudal lands in order.

            2. You really are one of the biggest bigots I have ever come across. You need to re-examine your biases and do something about them. Carry on tyrant.

              1. Allegations of bigotry don’t mean much when aimed by white nationalists masquerading in silly libertarian drag.

          2. How has Boston ruined other states in New England?

            Where do you live?

  2. Hmm. I live in a racially diverse neighborhood, have for the last 3 years. I can’t say I actually sought it out, though. I just picked it on the basis of crime rates and affordability.

    I didn’t consider it a downside or an upside. I just didn’t consider the racial composition of the neighborhood to be a factor, at all, during my house hunting. I simply went where the numbers led me.

    I wonder if that’s what’s going on: The minority who actively avoid racially mixed neighborhoods lower the cost of housing there, by reducing competition for it, so it becomes more attractive to the majority who don’t really care.

    I have no trouble at all squaring this with the rise of Donald Trump. Just because the left now habitually accuse anyone who doesn’t agree with them of racism, doesn’t make it true.

    1. I would be interested to see a study that attempts to tease apart how much is just people tend to move to similar or nicer neighborhoods. Traditionally the richer people were white, but that’s changing now and so other people can also afford to move to nicer neighborhoods.

      My guess is that economic divisions are the more significant. I have a hard time imagining a large majority of Americans making a major decision like this based on the color of their neighbors.

      1. You know, back when most libertarians were at least somewhat economically inclined, it was a common point in discussing racial segregation to note that, since racists cared about price AND race, while non-racists just cared about price, the price of anything that was racially segregated would end up being bid up, making it more expensive, and causing people who really didn’t care one way or the other to prefer integrated whatever; Restaurants, housing, you name it.

        That’s what’s going on here. There’s a declining stock of segregated housing, because you can’t legally stop somebody of the ‘wrong’ race from moving into it. So the racists are bidding the price of the declining stock of segregated housing up, and people who aren’t racists are ending up in “diverse” neighborhoods, not because they actually care whether they’re diverse, but instead because they’re cheaper.

        Take my 9 year old racially mixed son. (Half Caucasian, half Filipino.) He plays with whites, he plays with blacks, he just doesn’t care. Skin color might as well be hair color so far as he’s concerned. He’s the future of the country: Not people who value diversity.

        People who don’t care.

        1. ^this

          kids don’t care. Neither should we.

        2. My city has experienced a lot of gentrification in the last 15 years. Young couples bought run-down properties because they were affordable, and since the schools never improved, they left for the suburbs once their kids turned 4. The turnover is fast. Minorities have gained wealth and move to the suburbs for the same reason.

          There were some nasty crimes in the early years, but it’s been (obviously) acceptable. Most of the residents who stay in the gentrified neighborhoods are working class and peacefully coexist with the yuppies.

          There’s criticism that the improvements price out poorer residents, and there’s validity in that. Developers have built more low-income housing to accommodate that market, but a few of the complexes have things like granite counter-tops, covered parking, and community swimming pools that are a little silly. Residents would experience a significant decrease in quality of life if they started earning enough money to disqualify them from subsidized housing.

        3. Unfortunately minorities that choose to live in neighborhoods with a majority of the minority are actually decreasing their political power. So they may get a mayor elected but then that mayor won’t have a tax base to improve conditions. Minorities that want to improve their conditions should take a page out of the modern Asian immigrant and move smack dab in the middle of a modern Sun Belt suburb with quality schools and then get their kids into the state flagship university.

        4. There’s a declining stock of segregated housing, because you can’t legally stop somebody of the ‘wrong’ race from moving into it. So the racists are bidding the price of the declining stock of segregated housing up, and people who aren’t racists are ending up in “diverse” neighborhoods, not because they actually care whether they’re diverse, but instead because they’re cheaper.

          Well, that’s the supply side of the market. But if racism is in decline, so there are fewer racists, then maybe there is no such trend, or it is moving in the opposite direction – that is, the price premium, if there is one, for all-white neighborhoods, is shrinking.

          1. Possibly. I’m simply trying to explain why you’d get a growth in “diverse” neighborhoods even if most people didn’t give a damn whether or not their neighborhoods were “diverse”.

            This being the real world, for any phenomenon you care to name there are usually a half dozen, minimum, causes contributing.

    2. “the left now habitually accuse anyone who doesn’t agree with them of racism”

      Does this only apply to “the left”? You habitually accuse “the left” of racism – that is, accuse people you so label as wrongly using race in certain ways that is racist. When YOU do it though, I gather it is basic on merit, not merely disagreement. I think both sides do that because of deep disputes on what is the right path with someone confusion on both sides though honest mistake.

      I welcome those who grow up among a diverse group and differences don’t faze them. But, they “favor diversity” deep down — that is, all types of people appeal to them. It’s nice when this occurs by mere exposure. But, segregation is still a thing, especially in many cities.

      And, many grow up in non-diverse soundings — by religion, race, sex, viewpoint etc. This is not ideal & it’s not a bad thing to have various things that try to bring together different groups in various respects. Traditionally, e.g., public schools bring together all types. West Point joined people from different regions. Religious groups have brought together interfaith groups. etc. People have a tendency to fear differences. The nation is still not some heterogeneous mass even though happily it is more so today than in the past.

      It is not some bad thing to promote diversity, often by quite libertarian mechanisms or maybe conservative ones, to reference those who self-label themselves in that way. It’s not just some “left” thing.

  3. Time to modify Thomas Schelling’s research maybe? If there are a minority of people who are get stuck in place (myself) and a decline in racial bias generally, you can still have biased people vote with their feet but the result won’t be flipping the neighborhood from all white to all black.

    1. Note that Thomas Schelling’s model actually has the people caring about the racial composition of the neighborhoods they live in. They have different target compositions, but they all care.

      But, what happens if a large part of the population just don’t give a damn?

    2. What is happening is that people /are/ voting with their feet — it’s just not mainly (non-Hispanic) whites anymore. As blacks, Hispanics, and Asians get money, they move away from the center city. What this leaves is intense poverty pockets in the inner-city, especially black poverty. [1]

      So who’s moving in? There’s a trend for immigrants, especially millennials, to move into center cities.[2]

      But — just as economic inequality increases, so does economic segregation. So you have those inner city poverty pockets, and also those gated communities–and the gates tend to be highest where there is a new, innovative industry (e.g., tech).

      [1] Patterns of racial segregation

      [2] Metropolitan millennials

      [3] Innovatoin and economic segregation

  4. “Poisonous identity politics” predated Trump by several decades. It is also a bi-partisan sin. Some of the most egregious examples have been committed by those who now oppose Trump.

    1. They might have predated Trump; that’s why OP said “growth”. And it is bipartisan, which is why OP said “on both left and right”.

  5. I like how tucked into this post there was the claim that anyone who voted for Trump was a raging racist (all 63,000,000 of them) and with so many racists running around the country, its hard to explain away objective evidence that seems to show that Americans are less racist than in the past.

    1. Not every Trump voter is ignorant, backward, and intolerant. Not nearly.

      Plenty of them are, however, and everyone who voted for Pres. Trump, at minimum, exhibited a deficiency of character by appeasing bigotry and backwardness for perceived partisan advantage, however.

      1. Ad hominem comments are usually resorted to by those whose prejudices preclude comprehension . . . nothing unusual about Kirkland’s remarks.

    2. Somin is Patient Zero of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

    3. The racism of Republicans in general, and Trump supporters in particular, is less an observation than an article of faith. Little things like evidence don’t effect belief in it.

      1. I imagine many “very fine people” agree with Mr. Bellmore.

        Maybe not the Central Park Five.

        What about the “least racist person?”

        Or the marchers at Charlottesville?

        Perhaps some colorblind, post-racial, “traditional values” Trump supporters . . . the ones who declare they “will not be replaced.”

        Steve Bannon And The White Nationalists?

        Jeff Sessions and the Beauregards?

        Mexican judges? Funny-looking Gold Star mothers? All Muslims?

        Toss in a consent decree or two for racial discrimination as a landlord, and most people get the picture.

        1. Little things like evidence don’t effect belief in it.

          Got a mirror, Brett?

          1. Sure, want to use it to take a gander at yourself?

            1. I take it back.

              If you don’t get that Trump is a bigot the mirror isn’t going to help. You’ve voluntarily blinded yourself.

              1. Or I’m not fond of insanely broad definitions of “bigot” that are designed to sweep in anybody who doesn’t agree with Democratic party positions.

                1. I’m not either.

                  What does that have to do with Trump?

  6. Somin can be fairly characterized as the Conspiracy’s most able and dependable anti – nationalist, anti -Trump propaganda pump.

    1. What did you expect? He is the only libertarian among the Conspirators.

  7. It’s been my experience that as whole conservatives (Trump voters) are considerably more tolerant than liberals. If anything, conservatives are more religious the principles of which stress respect of their fellow men as part of daily life. This trumps waving posters around, marching about, and professing token concern about the latest social cause. Prime example; come speak about whatever provocative liberal cause you care to at a southern university; you will be allowed to speak, not be picketed, and not require a giant security presence.

    Interesting article in yesterday’s news; about Jordan Peele’s ( a well-known black director from California directing the popular film “Get Out” (nominated for 4 academy awards). Part of the film was shot in Fairhope, which is far south Alabama. Peele’s remarks on his visit speak for themselves ”

    “I went to Alabama with my own stereotypes and preconceived notions about getting chased out,” Peele says. “There’s definitely a feeling that you’re in Trump country. But I have to say, the stereotypes were proved wrong. People were very sweet, very open, and there’s a lot of film lovers there who are very intelligent. Ultimately, I loved Alabama.”

  8. (1) I don’t see that segregation, when voluntary (imposed by property owners and not government), is a bad thing in any way. Indeed, in housing in particular it adds value, because it allows residents to surround themselves who share their opinions about things like noise, upkeep, and what sorts of neighborly behavior to expect from one another. Indeed, the fact that the existing semi-free housing market tends to segregate residents by income level is the only reason most cities have ANY areas that are tolerable to live in.

    (2) The positive effects in (1) will only increase if it becomes legal for owners of housing to discriminate in favor of childless people, or by age, or by language spoken in the home, etc. We should pursue such a change in the law ASAP.

    (3) Segregation by politics is similarly a good thing, so long as it doesn’t lead to rights violations against anyone of other viewpoints who visits “your side’s neighborhood.”

    (4) All sides in this debate are overly restricted by the artificial housing shortage created by the scam known as urban planning. Let’s work to abolish it. The only limit on what you can build on your property ought to be the common law of nuisances.

    1. jdgalt1: “(2) The positive effects in (1) will only increase if it becomes legal for owners of housing to discriminate in favor of childless people, or by age”

      Just a point of clarification — don’t you know that it’s already legal — if not absolutely everywhere then at least in a great many places — to banish children and younger adults? I’ve lived in a 55+ community. Nice, quiet, tidy place, inhabited by people who got very bitchy about little things like a school bus occasionally driving through.

    2. What do you mean by “voluntary segregation imposed by property owners?”

      Should the residents of a condominium building be allowed to bar the sale of a unit to a Spanish-speaking family?

  9. Checking… yeah, I live in a town that’s mostly Jewish, and the Jews with kids (and most other people of their age) are people who moved here when their kids were 2-6 from Chicago/Skokie/the parts of Evanston with more black people.

    No, I do not believe you. This town has preposterously strong evidence of segregation by income intended to create segregation by race

    1. “segregation by income intended to create segregation by race”

      Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

      In the Indy area, where I live, some of those places also include black doctors and lawyers; city administrators; Eli Lilly, Anthem, or Cummins executives; as well as Colts and Pacers players.

      1. Try to do the math on what it would take for a metropolitan area with 3% Jews to have a single area (actually, our neighbor to the north is similar) where Jews are a majority.

        There are suburbs of Chicago and neighborhoods in Chicago that are less segregated by race despite not being dissimilar in income.

        This suburb is the way it is because a bunch of ethnically similar people decided to move in together

  10. The ultimate goal of globalism (which Somin favors) is one world government. Americans would have little to say about their own affairs under such an arrangement. Most Libertarians probably would not be happy under world rulers.

    1. In more than a half-century of interaction with a remarkable range of people — Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, socialists, Klan members; residents of many countries and most states; billionaires and paupers; legislative leaders and professors, athletes and laborers, homemakers and the homeless — I can not recall one discussing a world government, let alone advocating it.

      Where do you encounter these people (or, perhaps more accurate, precisely where do you envision them to be)?

      I have never met Prof. Somin (although I once “bought” him some beer), but I am confident the assertion that his goal is a single world government is daft.

      1. Just because you never heard it doesn’t mean it wasn’t in the mainstream discussion.

        My wife’s grandfather mentioned in his memoirs that discussions about the necessity of world government were a hot debate topic during his time as a student at Berkeley after World War II (he was in favor of it, incidentally). The idea appears to have fallen out of fashion following the rise of Third World/post-colonial nationalism in the wake of the Bandung conference, but the concepts of open borders and global corporatism have served as its philosophical offspring.

        1. I recognize that wingnuts prefer to live in the past (pining for illusory good old days, whining about all of this damned progress and enough with these uppity darkies already), but whipping out an article from 1950 to snipe at Prof. Somin for daring to express a genuinely libertarian view at a self-described ‘libertarianish’ right-wing blog currently hosted by an ostensibly libertarian website?

          Carry on, clingers. But at least try to keep your gloves up, or this just isn’t going to be a sporting match.

          1. I recognize that wingnuts prefer to live in the past

            I recognize that proglydytes hate when their anecdotal bullshit is proven wrong, but whining about an article that doesn’t conform with your personal experiences?

            Carry on, soyboys. But at least try to come back with something more than urbanite bugman boilerplate, or it won’t even be a contest.

            1. I grew up in a yahoo town, but after 40 years in civilization I guess I don’t speak retrograde bigot well enough to understand Red Rocks’ point about relying on a 70-year-old article in this exchange.

              1. I grew up in a yahoo town, but after 40 years in civilization I guess I don’t speak retrograde bigot well enough

                Apparently those 40 years made you more intellectually retarded, given how shocked you seem to be that someone dared counter your pointless anecdote with actual history.

                1. Seventy years ago, some guys like me talked about a single world government at least once.

                  Seventy years ago, guys like you were lynching blacks, beating their wives and children, and smacking gays around in alleys for sport.

                  The difference is that today’s liberals and libertarians don’t remember seventy years ago as the “good old days,” while today’s conservatives openly pine for the 1950s.

                  Carry on, clingers.

                  1. Seventy years ago, some guys like me talked about a single world government at least once.

                    “No one ever talked to me about world government, so it was never in the mainstream!”

                    Seventy years ago, guys like you were lynching blacks, beating their wives and children, and smacking gays around in alleys for sport.

                    My family’s Hispanic. Save your white guilt for your Boomer shitlib bomber reunions.

                    The difference is that today’s liberals and libertarians don’t remember seventy years ago as the “good old days,” while today’s conservatives openly pine for the 1950s.

                    That’s pretty hilarious given how much liberals won’t shut up about how awesome the 1950s were thanks to 90% marginal tax rates and a more unionized work force.

                    Carry on, clingers.

                    Carry on, solipsists.

    2. The ultimate goal of globalism (which Somin favors) is one world government.

      This is nonsense, as Somin doesn’t favor one world government. Somin has catastrophically bad conclusions about what his insane open borders ideology will cause, but he’s not actually trying to cause what he’s clearly working to cause

      1. Now the border between bad and evil open borders libertarians is the Brian Caplan line. Does the libertarian want open borders because he thinks it will destroy social trust like Caplan? I believe Somin’s answer is yes, although I’m not positive (and “yes” makes you evil)

  11. Reluctant to point out the obvious, but given anti ? nationalism, open borders, and voting with your feet, what kind of govt. would you suggest? Seems to me Somin’s solution is the only answer.

  12. Somin’s comment about Trumpism and the “old order” should be set to bagpipes.

    1. Don’t forget the military parade, with “plenty of flyovers” and really big missiles.

  13. I bet as white flight started and the inner cities started declining that the numbers showed a similarly surprising diversity. Hey! Lots of people of different races living together! We’re enlightened! Except it was just that transitionary period where more minority families could afford the falling prices and the white families jumped ship one at a time in favor of the burbs.

    So decades later, whites are moving back into the inner cities and, in places like San Diego, LA, and SF, the prices are so high that those whites are having to buy in cheaper areas which are mostly minority. So Hey, Again! Diversity! But as gentrification pushes some of the poorer families who rent out in place of wealthier families who buy, the diversity will diminish in favor of the gentrifying class, which is still mostly white. In SF, rent control laws and public pressure are slowing this down a bit, but it’s been happening in all four corners of the city and in the surrounding metro area.

    Picking a point in time that looks positive when it might just be the midpoint of a downward trend in diversity where the rising curve of whites intersects the falling curve of the minorities they’re displacing could be a problem. Love the optimism though!

    (What will diversity look like if Trump depopulates the US of all Latin American immigrants and Indian H1B visa holders?)

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