Waller, Maureen, Peter Rich, and Nathan Robbins. 2024. “Predation and the Disproportionate Risk of Driver’s License Suspensions in Economically and Racially Marginalized Communities.” Socius 10:1-18. Open access article   Cornell Chronicle coverage

Millions of people have their driver’s licenses suspended each year when they do not pay traffic fines or appear in court, with significant and compounding consequences for their lives. The increased use of fines and fees has been likened to a predatory system that exploits the most vulnerable groups to fill state and local budget gaps. States have begun limiting suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets out of economic and racial equity concerns, but many still sanction drivers for failing to appear in court or comply with other regulations. Merging the full universe of New York Department of Motor Vehicles suspension records in 2017 with the American Community Survey at the zip code level, we find that Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged communities were disproportionately impacted by both nonpayment and noncompliance suspensions. Predictive models suggest that reforms ending suspensions for both the failure to appear in traffic court and the failure to pay traffic tickets could substantially reduce these disparities.

Rich, Peter and Ann Owens (equal authors). 2023. “Neighborhood-School Structures: A New Approach to the Joint Study of Social Contexts.” Annual Review of Sociology 49:15.1-15.21.   ARS open access

Robust literatures separately estimate school effects and neighborhood effects on children’s educational, economic, health, and other outcomes that measure well-being. A growing body of research acknowledges that both contexts matter and considers neighborhoods and schools jointly. In this review, we synthesize the array of results that emerge from these studies and critique the tendency for researchers to evaluate which matters more, neighborhoods versus schools. We propose a reorientation of this scholarship that incorporates research on neighborhood and school selection and segregation processes. We argue that contextual effects research would be enriched by considering local neighborhood-school structures—the ways that families choose neighborhoods and schools and that neighborhoods and schools mutually and cyclically constitute one another. We conclude with recommendations for bringing neighborhood-school structures to bear on both outcomes-oriented studies of neighborhood and school effects as well as studies of contextual selection and segregation.

Owens, Ann and Peter Rich (equal authors). 2023. “Little Boxes All the Same? Racial-Ethnic Segregation and Educational Inequality Across the Urban-Suburban Divide.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 9(2):26-54. Open access article   Urban Institute coverage   PDF   Metropolitan and school district classification files

Suburbs were once a haven for advantaged, White families to avoid city life and access high-status schools. This urban-suburban divide, however, has changed in recent decades as suburban communities (and their school districts) have diversified. This study provides an updated cross-sectional portrait of recent racial-ethnic segregation and inequality between and within urban and suburban school districts in U.S. metropolitan areas. We find that the urban-suburban divide remains an important stratifying force—a substantial portion of racial-ethnic residential and school segregation, as well as racial-ethnic inequality in school poverty and test scores, occurs between urban and suburban school districts. Significant segregation and inequality also occur between and within suburban school districts. Suburban stratification is a key feature of the geography of inequality, warranting theoretical and methodological attention.

Note: this manuscript was prepared for a special issue of the RSF Journal on suburban inequality in the United States (eds. Lewis-McCoy, R. L’Heureux, Stephen A. Matthews, and Natasha Warikoo).

Michelmore, Katherine and Peter Rich (equal authors). 2023. “Contextual Origins of Black-White Educational Disparities in the 21st Century: Evaluating Long-Term Disadvantage Across Three Domains.” Social Forces 101(4):1918-1947  Social Forces   Supplementary appendix  Cornell Chronicle coverage  OurWeekly coverage

How much do black-white educational disparities reflect differences in family, school, and neighborhood contexts? We use sixteen years of statewide student administrative data from Michigan to update this classic sociological question with attention to observed racial differences in the duration of exposure to contextual disadvantage. We show that a longitudinal measure of family economic disadvantage explains significantly more of the black-white gap in test scores, high school completion, and college entry than a cross-sectional measure commonly used in education research. Racial differences in school context—much more than differences in neighborhood context—explain a large portion of remaining black-white educational disparities. Controlling for black-white differences in exposure to disadvantage across all three contexts reduces 8th and 11th grade test score gaps by over 60% and completely reverses educational attainment gaps, revealing a black net advantage. Our results demonstrate the need to incorporate longitudinal measures in educational administrative data and suggest that schools play a substantial role, after family disadvantage, in the persistence of racial educational inequality. More broadly, our study amplifies the argument that undoing systemic racism will require a confrontation with the deep contextual roots of black-white inequality in the 21st century.

Note: This material is based upon work supported by the Cornell Population Center and the Syracuse Center for Aging and Policy Studies 2016-17 CPC-CAPS Upstate Population Consortium Seed Grant Program. An advanced online version of this article was published  by Social Forces in October of 2022.

Rich, Peter, Jennifer Candipan, and Ann Owens. 2021. “Segregated Neighborhoods, Segregated Schools: Do Charters Break a Stubborn Link?” Demography 58 (2): 471–498. Demography (open access)    Cornell Chronicle coverage

Residential and school segregation historically mirrored one another, with school segregation seen as simply reflecting residential patterns due to neighborhood-based school assignment policy. We argue that the relationship is circular, with school options also influencing residential outcomes. To explore this, we examine what happens when neighborhood and school options are decoupled via public school choice in the form of charter schools. We hypothesize that the expansion of charter schools could simultaneously lead to an increase in school segregation and a decrease in residential segregation. We test this hypothesis with data from the Census and the Common Core of Data in a national sample of over 1,500 metropolitan districts. We find that Black-White school segregation increased and residential segregation declined in response to increases in charter enrollment share from 2000 to 2010. In districts with charter schools, the average increase in charter enrollment share corresponded to a 12 percent increase in school segregation and 2 percent decline in residential segregation. We find no relationship between charter school expansion and school segregation between White and Hispanic students, perhaps because Hispanic students attend more racially diverse charters than White or Black students. White-Hispanic residential segregation did decline as charter enrollment increased. Our results demonstrate that educational policy is consequential for both school and neighborhood population processes. Decoupling these two contexts via public school choice results in their segregation patterns moving in opposite directions, rather than mirroring one another. Our findings also provide a cautionary lesson for unfettered expansion of choice without integration imperatives.

Faber, Jacob and Peter Rich (equal authors). 2018. “Financially Overextended: College Attendance as a Contributor to Foreclosures During the Great Recession.” Demography 55 (5), 1727-1748.  Demography     Full text     Washington Post coverage    Cornell Chronicle coverage     Marketwatch coverage    Op-Ed in The Conversation

Although subprime mortgage lending and unemployment were largely responsible for the wave of foreclosures during the Great Recession, additional sources of financial risk may have exacerbated the crisis. We hypothesize that many parents sending children to college were financially overextended and vulnerable to foreclosure as the economy contracted. With commuting zone panel data from 2006 to 2011, we show that increasing rates of college attendance across the income distribution in one year predict a foreclosure rate increase in subsequent years, net of fixed characteristics and changes in employment, refinance debt, house prices, and 19-year-old population size. We find similar evidence of college-related foreclosure risk using longitudinal household data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Our findings uncover a previously overlooked dimension of the foreclosure crisis, and highlight mortgage insecurity as an inadvertent consequence of parental investment in higher education.

Note: This project was funded by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation.

Torche, Florencia and Peter Rich. 2017. “Declining Racial Stratification in Marriage Choices? Trends in Black/White Status Exchange in the United States, 1980-2010.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 3(1): 31-49.  SRE     Contexts coverage     Torche & Rich Replication Package

The status exchange hypothesis suggests that partners in black/white marriages in the United States trade racial for educational status, indicating strong hierarchical barriers between racial groups. The authors examine trends in status exchange in black/white marriages and cohabitations between 1980 and 2010, a period during which these unions increased from 0.3 percent to 1.5 percent of all young couples. The authors find that status exchange between black men and white women did not decline among either marriages or cohabitations, even as interracial unions became more prevalent. The authors also distinguish two factors driving exchange: (1) the growing probability of marrying a white person as educational attainment increases for both blacks and whites (educational boundaries) and (2) a direct trade of race-by-education between partners (dyadic exchange). Although the theoretical interpretation of exchange has focused on the latter factor, the authors show that status exchange largely emerges from the former.

Rich, Peter and Jennifer Jennings. 2015. “Choice, Information, and Constrained Options: School Transfers in a Stratified Educational System.” American Sociological Review 80(5):1069-1098.  ASR     Online Supplement     LSE blog     U.S. News & World Report coverage

It is well known that family socioeconomic background influences childhood access to opportunities. Educational reforms that introduce new information about school quality may lead to increased inequality if families with more resources are better able to respond. However, these policies can also level the playing field for choice by equalizing disadvantaged families’ access to information. This study assesses how a novel accountability system affected family enrollment decisions in the Chicago Public Schools by introducing new test performance information and consequences. We show that a substantial proportion of families responded by transferring out when their child’s school was assigned “probation.” Poor families transferred children to other schools in the district, but at a lower rate than non-poor families, who were also more likely to leave for another district or enroll in private school. Most striking, we show that despite family response to the probation label, access to higher-performing schools changed very little under the new policy; students who left probation schools were the most likely of all transfer students to enroll in other low-performing schools in the district. Although new information changed families’ behavior, it did not address contextual and resource-dependent factors that constrain the educational decisions of poor families.

Besbris, Max, Jacob Faber, Peter Rich, and Patrick Sharkey (equal authors). 2015. “The Effect of Neighborhood Stigma on Economic Transactions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 112(16).   PNAS     Article PDF    Washington Post coverage     Replication Package

The hypothesis of neighborhood stigma predicts that individuals who reside in areas known for high crime, poverty, disorder, and/or racial isolation embody the negative characteristics attributed to their communities and experience suspicion and mistrust in their interactions with strangers. This article provides an experimental test of whether neighborhood stigma affects individuals in one domain of social life: economic transactions. To evaluate the neighborhood stigma hypothesis, this study adopts an audit design in a locally organized, online classified market, using advertisements for used iPhones and randomly manipulating the neighborhood of the seller. The primary outcome under study is the number of responses generated by sellers from disadvantaged relative to advantaged neighborhoods. Advertisements from disadvantaged neighborhoods received significantly fewer responses than advertisements from advantaged neighborhoods. Results provide robust evidence that individuals from disadvantaged neighborhoods bear a stigma that influences their prospects in economic exchanges. The stigma is greater for advertisements originating from disadvantaged neighborhoods where the majority of residents are black. This evidence reveals that residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood not only affects individuals through mechanisms involving economic resources, institutional quality, and social networks but also affects residents through the perceptions of others.

Book chapters

Book chapter: Bischoff, Kendra, and Peter Rich (equal authors). 2024. “Neighborhood Effects on Schools and Students.” Accepted in 2022, The SAGE Handbook on Sociology of Education, eds. Mark Berends, Barbara Schneider, and Stephen Lamb. SAGE Publications Limited (ISBN #978-1473967458).

This chapter provides an overview of research from sociologists of education and scholars in related disciplines about the intersecting and bidirectional relationship between neighborhoods and educational outcomes for students and schools. We first review the effect of neighborhood contexts on individual student outcomes, such as test scores and high school graduation rates, paying close attention to methodological challenges for causal identification and recent developments in understanding how and for whom neighborhoods influence educational outcomes. Next, we review school-level outcomes, focusing on how neighborhoods shape school composition, resources, and culture. In this section, we present alternative analytic conceptions of neighborhoods as they relate to schools, paying special attention to the inherent complexities in the relationship between schools and neighborhoods in systems with school choice. The chapter concludes with a discussion of directions for future research.

Book chapter: Besbris, Max, Jacob Faber, Peter Rich, and Patrick Sharkey (equal authors). 2018. “The Geography of Stigma: Experimental Methods to Identify the Penalty of Place” in Audit Studies: Behind the Scenes with Theory, Method and Nuance, ed. Michael Gaddis. New York, NY: Springer (ISBN #978-3319711522).     Springer  

The United States remains a spatially segregated nation by many measures including race, income, wealth, political views, education, and immigration status. Scholars have, for many years, grappled with questions stemming from spatial inequality and have come to recognize the neighborhood in which an individual lives as a socially organizing unit of space, predictive of many individual-level outcomes. The mechanisms that underlie the relationship between neighborhoods and outcomes for residents, however, remain relatively underexplored. In this chapter, we show how the use of audits and field experiments can help uncover one such mechanism—place-based stigma in social interactions. Specifically, we describe the methodology of a previous study (Besbris et al. 2015) that revealed how signaling residence in a poor community of color negatively affected sellers’ ability to attract buyers in a classified marketplace. We focus on the study’s operationalization of neighborhoods and show how future research can use non-individual-level treatment characteristics such as units of space. Doing so helps us better understand the causal relationship between space and individual-level outcomes, as well as better parse the effects of individual-level variables versus non-individual-level variables, which are often conflated in non-experimental research. We close by suggesting the implementation of field experiments in testing for effects at other geographic scales, such as metropolitan area, state, region, country, or continent.