Urban Research Monitor
Changing Settlement Patterns

Previous research on immigrant settlement patterns indicates that the central city ethnic enclave is only one phase of an ongoing migration pattern. Once newcomers improve their economic status, language fluency, and understanding of the culture, they tend to assimilate spatially, leaving the ethnic cluster for more diverse suburbs. In "Immigrant Groups in the Suburbs: A Reexamination of Suburbanization and Spatial Assimilation," Alba and his colleagues advise amending the spatial assimilation theory to include those who immigrate directly to the suburbs. Using 1980 and 1990 census data for the 10 racial/ethnic groups with the greatest immigrant growth, the authors scrutinized family characteristics—household income, age, marital status, presence of children, education, length of residence, and English-speaking ability—to determine whether some of these factors affect the residential choice of suburban versus central city location. Their analysis reveals that higher household income, education, and language fluency are closely related to the choice of a suburban residence, but the effect of the variables differs among ethnic groups.

Research conducted by Galster, Metzger, and Waite in "Neighborhood Opportunity Structures of Immigrant Populations, 1980 and 1990" concurs with that of Alba and his colleagues. Although their study looks specifically at ethnic neighborhoods and immigrants' propensity to locate near one another, Galster and his colleagues also find that the inner-city ethnic enclave is losing ground within the metropolitan area. Their statistical analysis of 17 immigrant groups in 5 metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC—also indicates that fewer immigrants are choosing to live near populations of their own ethnic group and certain immigrant groups are more likely to locate outside the central city.

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