Segregation refers to the degree of spatial separation of groups and is usually regarded as being a major predictor of the level of social interaction between groups. There are numerous indicators, but the principal ones focus of two quite distinct issues. The first, perfectly exemplified by the commonly used Index of Dissimilarity (ID), measures the proportion of a particular group that would need to move in order to produce a uniform distribution of groups. The second, illustrated by the Index of Isolation, focuses on the probability of meeting someone of the same group or, alternatively, someone from a different group.
Peter Ratcliffe, Tim Brown, and David Owen (2007) Mixed Communities Project:
Phase I Report, Coventry: Institute of Community Cohesion.
There are normally a plethora of complex decision making processes that underlay spatial mobility. We therefore caution against the temptation to characterise such processes by simplistic notions such as ‘white flight’ or ‘self-segregation’.
The idea of ‘white flight’ has long and complex roots. It was central to characterisations of the changing urban geography of US cities in the 1960s, being linked to the idea of a ‘tipping point’. Cohen (2006) quotes Eric Avila as defining ‘white flight’ as follows:
Typically white flight describes a structural process by which post-war suburbanisation helped the racial re-segregation of the USA, dividing presumably white suburbs from concentrations of racialised – largely black and Chicano – poverty.
In conjunction with the idea of a tipping point it was used to describe the situation in which as blacks move into an area whites began moving out, and when the process reached a particular point all remaining whites would leave within a short space of time. The process of ‘white flight’ has also been associated with the practice of ‘block-busting’ in which estate agents promote the perception that a minority population represents a threat to property values, stimulating white home owners to sell their property more readily than they might otherwise do.
The closely related idea of ‘self-segregation’, usually interpreted as ethnic/faith groups actively choosing to live in clusters spatially separated from other groups, although by no means a new concept, came to the forefront of debates in the UK surrounding community cohesion.
In the case of ‘self-segregation’ it essentially ‘blames the victim’ by suggesting that minorities do not wish to be seen as part of civil society and hence withdraw to the periphery (it is not normally used in connection with spatial movement on the part of majority groups). The truth is in many cases precisely the opposite, that they are constrained to live where they do by external structural forces (e.g. policies/practices of housing market institutions or hostility from whites), domestic obligations and/or the lack of financial resources.