Working Papers

Please email Peter for copies of these working papers: peter.rich@cornell.edu

Rich, Peter. “Race, Resources, and Test-Scores: What Schooling Characteristics Motivate the Housing Choices of White and Black Parents?” Working paper.

Does the racial composition of local schools impact where parents choose to live? Using a discrete choice model with geocoded household addresses from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, I compare where mobile parents and non-parents move and how their decisions vary by race and neighborhood characteristics. White parents are especially likely to sort into school districts and neighborhoods with mostly-white student populations. The behavior is independent of sorting by home-ownership and by neighborhoods’ average home size, cost, income, unemployment, poverty, and proximity to commercial districts. In contrast, black housing selection trends toward neighborhoods with integrated schools and does not vary between parents and non-parents. Crucially, school factors—poverty level, class size, per pupil funding, and test scores—fail to explain white parents’ distinct inclination toward neighborhoods with segregated white public schools. As white parents secure perceived educational advantages for their own children, they express and fortify a legacy of racial inequality.

Note: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1519017. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.  Geographic crosswalks are available here.


Rich, Peter. “White Parental  Flight and Avoidance: Neighborhood Choices in the Era of School District Desegregation.” Working Paper.

Parents’ concerns about local schools may be a substantial force driving racial residential segregation in the post-Civil Rights Era, but direct causal evidence of school-related sorting has been sparse. This study merges mobility histories from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics with local school district data from 1968-1990 to analyze how micro-level residential choices changed in response to mandated school desegregation plans. Event history analyses reveal that desegregation plans triggered an extra 4.7 percent of white households to move from their local district, and that parents were the most responsive. A discrete choice analysis of neighborhood selection shows that mobile white parents were almost half as likely as mobile childless households to move into neighborhoods in desegregating districts; in the South, desegregation plans turned formerly attractive neighborhoods into unattractive options for young white parents, but in the non-South, white parents avoided neighborhoods in desegregating districts even before the plans were implemented. Local schooling conditions clearly affected white parents, whose distinctive flight and avoidance behavior contributed to a macro pattern of racial segregation between districts that prevails today.

Recipient of three American Sociological Association paper awards: the 2016 David Lee Stevenson Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper (Sociology of Education), the 2016 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award (Inequality, Poverty and Mobility), and the 2016 Graduate Student Paper Award (Sociology of Population).


Michelmore, Katherine and Peter Rich (equal authors). “Contextual Origins of Black-White Educational Disparities in the 21st Century.” Under review.

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 cross-sectional measure of family economic disadvantage—commonly used in education research—explains about 30% less of the black-white gap in test scores, high school completion, and college entry than a richer, longitudinal measure. After accounting for longitudinal family economic disadvantage, we show that 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 secondary role 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.


Owens, Ann and Peter Rich. “Little boxes all the same? Racial segregation and educational inequality across the urban-suburban divide.” Under review.

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 portrait of racial segregation and inequality between and within urban and suburban school districts in U.S. metropolitan areas in 2015-16. We find that the urban-suburban divide remains an important stratifying force—a substantial portion of racial residential and school segregation, alongside racial inequality in school poverty and test scores, occurs between urban and suburban school districts. Importantly, significant segregation and inequality also occurs between and within suburban school districts. Suburban stratification is a key feature of the geography of inequality, warranting theoretical and methodological attention.