Social Capital and Segregation: Race, Connections, and Inequality in America

Posted: 30 Jul 2002

Date Written: February 2002


The metropolitan areas in which most Americans live remain deeply segregated along race lines, and according to this study, that spatial separateness has strong effects on the social connections that shape access to opportunity and democratic participation in our society. Persistent residential segregation - along race, socio-economic status, and other dimensions - has long been associated in direct ways with social inequality, for example by denying racial minorities and the poor equal access to quality schooling, jobs, and other resources. But segregation also shapes inequality through a subtle and pervasive structuring of social relationships. Social capital - the varied bundle of resources obtainable through these relationships - is vital and at risk in the divided metropolis. This paper presents conceptual models that integrate research in various disciplines on the causes of segregation, and it proposes an integrated way of thinking about the power of place to affect inequality. Using a unique datafile that combines a multi-region survey of social ties and civic participation with the 2000 U.S. census, the paper then tests effects of residential segregation on the presence of inter-racial social ties, net of household traits, civic involvement, education, and other factors. Higher residential segregation by race is strongly associated with a lower incidence of interracial friendships (or "race bridges") in metro areas across the nation. The absence of such bridges holds urgent implications for economic success, inter-group understanding, and democracy in America. Given the persistence of neighborhood segregation and the power of other mechanisms, though, it may be that remedies aimed at race mixing in schools, workplaces, and civic institutions deserve renewed attention. In an era of official retrenchment on race issues, it is unclear to what degree such remedies should rely on government action alone.

Keywords: Law and Legal Institutions, Political Science, Welfare/HealthCare/Social Policy

Suggested Citation

de Souza Briggs, Xavier, Social Capital and Segregation: Race, Connections, and Inequality in America (February 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Xavier De Souza Briggs (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Room 9-521
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
617-253-7956 (Phone)

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