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Segregation is both the formal and informal separation of one group from another. This can occur, for example, according to class, gender, sexual orientation, or religious differences. These markers of difference are used as reasons for justifying a split between groups and populations. The repercussions of these separations are vast, creating and supporting structural inequality throughout all levels of society.
Segregation is often explained according to whether it is classified as de facto or de jure. The most common form is de facto, which is often viewed as self-segregation. Divisions occur between groups of people in specific areas of their social lives such as in schools, housing and in the workplace. People are seen as naturally” self-selecting where they live and work. This is often visible when examining immigration patterns as people tend to move to areas where they know other people or where the population is similar to them. This kind of segregation is supported by a host of systemic practices such as discriminatory housing and lending policies. For example, historically the banking, insurance and real estate industries practiced red lining, which determines what neighborhoods are not eligible for mortgages, loans or other services due to their deteriorating conditions. Often these decisions were based on the ethnic, religious or racial characteristics of the residents. These practices continue today largely in the form of higher interest rates for loans and higher insurance premiums.
Legal segregation is labeled as de jure. This type of segregation takes the form of regulations that determine access to public services and accommodation, housing, property ownership and employment. Limits are also placed on individuals’ rights to inheritance, adoption of children or choice in marriage partner. In the USA examples of this include male-only” or white-only” jobs, denial of housing based on sexuality, separate facilities for whites and blacks and barriers to same-sex marriage. These formalized practices reinforce de facto segregation. While many nations have eliminated de jure segregation, discrimination and isolation continue on many informal levels.
There are a variety of reasons why de facto segregation continues to exist. Living in communities where there are groups of people similar to oneself can help maintain common cultural practices while fostering a spirit of community. Residential segregation is also heavily influenced by economic class as well as race/ethnicity. Sociologists have found that the better groups and individuals can assimilate into society, particularly immigrants, the less likely they will face issues related to inequality. This reinforces a continual tension between living where and how someone chooses while attempting to have a society where difference is honored rather than used as a means of discrimination and separation.
Scholarship on the continuation of segregation in the USA splits between attributing it to racism or classism. This debate filters into the practices of segregation in the areas of work, education and health. While de jure segregation has been eliminated, cultural practices and the social institutions that have been framed according to these policies and ideologies remain slow to change. Contemporary research is finding that residential segregation is increasing, proportionally non-white groups make up a larger percentage of lower income individuals and Black Americans continue to have higher mortality rates and lower high school graduation rates. Research has shown that integration of workplace, schools and neighborhoods, on race, ethnic and economic class levels, significantly reduces crime and violence, improves academic performance, economic opportunities and reduces bias and discriminatory practices.
- Charles, C. (2003) The dynamics of racial residential segregation. Annual Review of Sociology 29.
- Massey, D. & Denton, N. (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
- Wilson, W. J. (1991). Another Look at The Truly Disadvantaged. Political Science Quarterly 106: 4.