Comparing French and U.S Socioeconomic Segregation


Low-income neighborhoods in Paris (left) and New York City, two of the cities compared in the study.

A new working paper by IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian and his colleague Hugues Lagrange of Sciences Po finds that socioeconomic segregation in large U.S. cities is much higher than in French ones of the same size. They also reveal that half or more of the difference between the two could be due to greater levels of U.S. income inequality.

Quillian and Lagrange used recent data from the American Community Survey, the French Census, and data from the French Ministry of Finance to identify those cities with a metropolitan population of more than 1 million—counting four French and 51 U.S. cities. They then compared the averages of both countries and created a paired sample. Based on major industries, metropolitan population, and geography, they matched Paris with New York, Marseille with New Orleans, Lyon with Denver, and Lille with Raleigh.

In measuring the levels of socioeconomic segregation in these cities, the two researchers find U.S. cities are more segregated than French ones on all three measures tested: income, employment status, and education level. (The smaller French neighborhood units tend to produce higher segregation rates, indicating that the difference in socioeconomic segregation between the two countries is likely greater than estimated here.) The researchers also find the share of neighborhood income differences that can be explained by racial or ethnic composition is similar in the two countries. This suggests that racial segregation cannot account for the greater socioeconomic segregation in the United States.

Quillian and Lagrange, who are part of a wider research collaboration between IPR and Sciences Po faculty, believe such international comparisons are important because they “place each country in a broader context that increases understanding as to whether the level of socioeconomic variation is unusual.” This is of particular concern in the United States as socioeconomic segregation has greatly increased here over the past 30 years. Their additional aims in comparing the two countries are to help researchers apply rigorous models from one country to the other—and to show how differences in national policies might play a role in addressing segregation.

Lincoln Quillian is professor of sociology and an IPR fellow. 

Photo credit: Flickr users Alskapone and -AX-