Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods is widely assumed to undermine life chances because residents are isolated from neighborhoods with greater resources. Yet, residential isolation may be mitigated by individuals spending much of their everyday lives outside their home neighborhoods, a possibility that has been difficult to assess on a large scale. Using new methods to analyze urban mobility in the 50 largest American cities, we find that residents of primarily black and Hispanic neighborhoods—whether poor or not—are far less exposed to either nonpoor or white middle-class neighborhoods than residents of primarily white neighborhoods. Although residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods regularly travel as far and to as many different neighborhoods as those from advantaged neighborhoods, their relative isolation and segregation persist.Abstract
Influential research on the negative effects of living in a disadvantaged neighborhood assumes that its residents are socially isolated from nonpoor or “mainstream” neighborhoods, but the extent and nature of such isolation remain in question. We develop a test of neighborhood isolation that improves on static measures derived from commonly used census reports by leveraging fine-grained dynamic data on the everyday movement of residents in America’s 50 largest cities. We analyze 650 million geocoded Twitter messages to estimate the home locations and travel patterns of almost 400,000 residents over 18 mo. We find surprisingly high consistency across neighborhoods of different race and income characteristics in the average travel distance (radius) and number of neighborhoods traveled to (spread) in the metropolitan region; however, we uncover notable differences in the composition of the neighborhoods visited. Residents of primarily black and Hispanic neighborhoods—whether poor or not—are far less exposed to either nonpoor or white middle-class neighborhoods than residents of primarily white neighborhoods. These large racial differences are notable given recent declines in segregation and the increasing diversity of American cities. We also find that white poor neighborhoods are substantially isolated from nonpoor white neighborhoods. The results suggest that even though residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods travel far and wide, their relative isolation and segregation persist.