Spatial Demography


While space or geographic location resonate throughout much of the research conducted by CSDA associates, as a result of our focus on spatial inequalities, in this section we consider research where the role of space or location is a more central focus. Research on residential segregation is one such strand for which the Center has long been known and tends to be at the core of the research in the spatial demography area. CSDA researchers have brought innovations to the study of segregation in several ways. First, explicit attention has been paid to exactly how different layers of geography (i.e., proximate neighbors, census tract in which the original unit is located, adjacent census tracts, and the metropolitan level) affect the residential mobility of individuals underlying segregation. This work moves us beyond the question of whether space matters to how space matters. Second, at an aggregate level, innovative research has been done to expand knowledge about why residential segregation persists in the aggregate, focusing particularly on racial and ethnic discrimination that exists in the online, rental market, which has not heretofore been examined. Third, a significant amount of research by CSDA associates has focused on the impact of segregation at the individual-level in terms of the locational attainment experienced by individuals, particularly children. While this area is not necessarily “new” in the study of segregation, research by CSDA associates has focused on this topic using new data and also new contexts (i.e., China). In addition to work on residential segregation, CSDA associates have been examining the links between space and crime, the environment, and health.

With respect to the first innovation, South in collaboration with past Albany graduate students, has estimated the effect of the racial composition of spatially nearby neighborhoods on the out migration from neighborhoods, controlling for the neighborhoods in which individuals migrate from and metropolitan-level characteristics. Using data from the PSID, they find that controlling for extralocal conditions provides stronger support for neighborhood effects since conditions in the nearby neighborhoods act as suppressors on the neighborhood of residence. Most recently, South and his team have turned their attention to the larger metropolitan structure and how it influences residential segregation, particularly the residential attainment of white and black households as well as the mobility of such households to and from poor and nonpoor neighborhoods. This work advances the literature by explicitly considering the influence of metropolitan characteristics, relative to neighborhood-level characteristics, on these outcomes and by revealing that a sizeable share of the variation in these outcomes is directly attributable to metropolitan-level variation in these outcomes. South and colleagues’ future work will examine the extent to which neighborhood- and metropolitan-level characteristics interact with one another to influence such outcomes, thereby further advancing our current understanding of how the linkages across space affect individual-level outcomes underlying residential segregation. In addition, they will explore the effect that kin location and residential histories potentially have on inter-neighborhood migration. This is an innovative new direction given that no research has considered the complexities of family dynamics and previous residential histories on such mobility dynamics.

Adding to this small body of research that considers the role of layers of space on demographic processes, Friedman Sociology) has considered the impact of proximate neighbors in “neighbor clusters” on the residential satisfaction, out-mobility, and in-mobility of whites, blacks, and Latinos using data from the American Housing Survey. Relative to census-tract level characteristics, she finds that proximate-neighbor characteristics (particularly proximate-neighbor race and ethnicity) matter more than census-tract characteristics in predicting the race and ethnicity of households that move into vacated units (i.e., destination choices) and matter less than census-tract characteristics in predicting residential satisfaction and the out-mobility of households. Friedman has also brought innovation to the larger study of residential segregation through her “cybersegregation” or internet-based name discrimination project, in collaboration with Gregory Squires and Maria Krysan. NICHD, ARRA, and HUD funded, this project investigates how owners or managers renting apartments in Boston and Dallas discriminate based on whether the name of the applicant sounds white, black or Hispanic, and thus investigates a key mechanism that could perpetuate residential segregation.

Friedman and colleagues find that disparities in unfavorable treatment of minorities, relative to whites, are the largest when it involves more potential contact with providers. Minority testers are less likely to be invited to inspect rental units or be told to contact the provider. Surprisingly, however, the disparities in treatment based upon these discrete measures are not as large as might be expected. A follow-up study by Friedman and colleagues re-analyzed the word-for-word email responses of providers, who gave a response, and found that discrimination is not typically characterized by a “slam-the-door in your face” kind of behavior but instead is subtler. Often providers are more “facilitative” to white testers as compared to minority testers, behavior that is not easily captured in discrete measures of treatment (i.e., is the unit available, did the tester get a response; an invitation to inspect the unit; was told to contact the provider). Friedman has applied the methodology used in the name-discrimination project to one that she is currently working on as a consultant regarding discrimination of same-sex couple households in the rental housing market, funded by HUD. She plans to build upon this work in the future to try and capture discrimination in the housing market against single-female headed households, Muslims, and other protected classes.

Another strand of spatial research that has a long history at CSDA and continues is locational attainment research. This method, originally devised by Alba, is being used in the project “Social Contexts of Immigrant Children” funded by an NICHD grant to Denton, Alba and Hernandez (also discussed above under immigration and internal migration). The project investigates the quality of the neighborhoods in which immigrant parents are able to rear their children. It is innovative because it uses the NYCRDC and thus is able to link immigrant families to their Census tract, as well as estimate effects based on the full sample, not just the public data, thus increasing the number of specific immigrant origins that can be studied. The project is finding that for children in Hispanic immigrant families, their neighborhood environments are nowhere near the same as those of non-Hispanic white children, even after family characteristics are controlled. This is important because it has implications for the pathways of integration that might be taken by such children when they become adults. Also interested in the spatial aspects of immigration, Liang is currently working on a Russell Sage Foundation funded project with Deane to analyze the settlement of low-income immigrants from China and their businesses. What is innovative about this work is its link between the locational attainment of Chinese immigrants to characteristics of the broader metropolitan context, in particular whether the context is a traditional immigrant destination or a new gateway. While such gateways have been identified, little research has systematically explored how those contexts affect individual-level housing, health, and economic outcomes.

On another side of the globe, geographer Huang (Geography and Planning) examines the patterns of residential segregation and housing inequality emerging in Beijing as China makes the transition from work-unit compounds to gated communities and ownership of multiple homes. Huang’s more recent work focuses on second home ownership in China. Second home ownership is promoted to stimulate the economy but it also contributes to the housing shortage, inequality and market or locational distortions. It argues that ownership and location of the primary and secondary home must be considered together. The persisting household registration system, as well as the continued allocation of subsidized housing, results in people owning one home and renting another, or living in public housing but also owning a home.

Also working in the context of China, Messner (Sociology) is focused on the link between neighborhoods and crime. This new project, funded by NSF is designed to examine the distinctive organizational mechanisms intended to control disorderly conditions in contemporary urban China. The project focuses on the operations of “neighborhood committees” (Jü Wei Hui) and neighborhood police stations (Pai Chu Suo), which are grass-roots social control organizations, and the adaptations of these organizations to the rapidly changing social landscape in China. The research is informed by an analytic model that integrates key concepts from the Western literature on “neighborhood effects” with concepts tailored to the unique Chinese context. The analyses assess the interrelationships among indicators of the social structural features of neighborhoods, distinct dimensions of neighborhood social control (informal, semi-public, public, and market-based control), and specified forms of social and physical disorder.

The Urban China Research Network, founded at Albany in 1999 and currently led by sociologists Liang and Messner (described more fully in the Immigration section) also is concerned with spatial demography. It engages with the uneven development evident across the regions of China and other critical issues of urbanization in that country.

The nexus between spatial methods and substantive research at CSDA is best exemplified by the work of Deane. His work focuses on how the environment and population interrelate with each other. A key example is his 2011 co-edited book Navigating Time and Space in Population Studies (Springer). This book covers all the population processes, a time frame from the 18th to 21st centuries, and presents innovative temporally and spatially explicit methods to examine longstanding questions about population diffusion as well as refine core demographic theories. His long collaboration with Myron Guttman, funded by NICHD, has sought to answer the question of how people behave demographically in a complex social, economic, and environmental setting. They find that while simplistic trend models are descriptive of frontier settlement, the process involves more than simple diffusion. His work on family dynamics is structured to show whether relations between parents and adult children are imbedded in and influenced by relationships with other adult children.

A new theme emerging in spatial research at CSDA moves beyond urban areas to suburban and rural communities. Much of this work is being done on New York State. A new project, headed by Denton and Friedman, called “How the Other Third Lives”, has been launched on the Mumford website ( It aims to do several things: first, explore demographic issues for upstate New York, since research on the entire state is dominated by NYC; second, use upstate as a laboratory to investigate the feasibility of larger projects; and third, to link together data about New York State from various sources and at different geographic levels into a comprehensive mapping system. This is a collaborative project involving researchers from other universities. Several reports have already been produced (race/ethnic change, Catskills, 2010 Census) and more are in process (poverty, assistance, segregation). The upstate NY project dovetails nicely with Bell’s work on pesticides and fetal mortality and agricultural health issues, which is described in more detail under the Data Collection and Methods Theme. Another public health researcher, Gallant is examining sources of support for diabetes in rural and underserved communities, documenting the relationship between them and diabetes self-help behaviors. The project involves implementing community-based walking programs in rural communities in upstate N.Y. Jurkowski, (Public Health), has been involved in the Amsterdam Latino community, a smaller “new” immigrant destination, focusing on women’s mental health, physical activity levels, and delays in using health care. Like the work of Liang and Deane, her work is innovative in its focus of how this particular context affects the health care outcomes of this population.

Other work that focuses on specific parts of the urban environment and is likely to include more spatial components as it moves forward include Chung’s work on Asian American suburbs in Los Angeles and Hosler’s work on the location of food stores as a factor in the nutrition of low income families. Liang seeks to further the study of spatial demography in examining the complex effect of natural disasters on population, health, and environmental dynamics. In addition, he plans on studying the complexity of the interaction between humans and nature in rural landscapes. Friedman seeks to expand her recent work on segregation by homeownership (tenure) status. She plans to take a longitudinal focus on this project in order to investigate whether and how the subprime mortgage lending crisis has played a role in exacerbating the segregation of black homeowners from white homeowners. South and colleagues have a proposal under review to examine the effects of minority concentration on health. Using mapping software, information on neighborhood environmental conditions, and spatial regression techniques, Brandon is planning a project on the location of childcare centers in order to: (a) represent the spatial distribution of these two vulnerable groups of children relative to the locations of market child care providers; and (b) document the potential health and social consequences for these two groups attending child care in compromised environments. He is very knowledgeable in spatial statistics and his expertise will complement Deane’s and enable us to expand our statistical focus as detailed in the Development Core.

CSDA’s spatial demography theme contributes to NICHD’s population dynamics vision. In particular, spatial methodology and modeling is a sophisticated method of using neighborhood or other contextual data to identify populations with distinctive environmental experiences.

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