“Not Just a Lateral Move”: Residential Decisions and the Reproduction of Urban Inequality

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Despite decades of research on residential mobility and neighborhood effects, we know comparatively less about how people sort across geography. In recent years, scholars have been calling for research that considers residential selection as a social stratification process. In this paper, we present findings from work our team has done over the last 17 years to explore how people end up living where they do, relying in large part on systematically sampled in-depth narrative interviews with families. We focus on four key decisions: whether to move; where to move; whether to send children to school in the neighborhood; and whether to rent or own a home. We found that many residential mobility decisions among the poor were “reactive,” with unpredictable shocks forcing families out of their homes. As a result of reactive moving, housing search time frames became shorter and poor parents employed short-term survival solutions to secure housing instead of long-term investment thinking about neighborhood and school district quality. These shocks, constraints, and compressed time frames led parents to decouple some dimensions of neighborhoods and schools from the housing search process while maximizing others, like immediacy of shelter, unit quality, and proximity to work and child care. Finally, we found that policies can significantly shape and better support some of these decisions. Combined, our research revealed some of the processes that underlie locational attainment and the intergenerational transmission of neighborhood context.




DeLuca, S., & Jang-Trettien, C. (2020). “Not Just a Lateral Move”: Residential Decisions and the Reproduction of Urban Inequality. City and Community, 19(3), 451–488. https://doi.org/10.1111/cico.12515

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