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).


Rich, Peter, Jennifer Candipan, and Ann Owens. “The Liberalization of Public School Enrollment: Integrating Neighborhoods, Segregating Schools.” Under Review. 

Neighborhood and school segregation are intertwined because where one lives influences where one attends school. Charter school expansion weakens this neighborhood-school link, providing families a non-neighborhood public school option. We use Census and NCES data to evaluate whether charter school expansion affected school and residential segregation from 2000 to 2010. We find that charter school expansion reduced residential segregation while increasing school segregation between Black and White children in large, racially diverse metropolitan school districts. Charter school expansion accounts for 22 percent of the observed increase in school segregation and 45 percent of the observed (though modest) decrease in residential segregation. This liberalization of school assignment policy enables families to make segregative school enrollment decisions while reducing their tendency to sort into racially segregated neighborhoods. That these effects occur simultaneously and in opposite directions provides new evidence that school preferences play an underappreciated role in residential segregation that is often difficult to identify. Our contemporary era should be conceptualized not as one of “de facto” segregation, implying that segregation inevitably results from market and demographic forces, but as one of “unintentional de jure” segregation, in which policies that fail to consider sorting behaviors and promote unfettered choice facilitate segregation.


Michelmore, Katherine and Peter Rich (equal authors). “Trajectories of Disadvantage: Predictors of Chronic Hardship and their Correlates with Education Outcomes.” Working paper.

Education and stratification researchers have long evaluated how policy and context affect unequal outcomes for low- versus high-income children. This literature has recently grown with the increasing availability of educational administrative data. However, a first-order question is whether children’s economic background can be appropriately measured when most data sources are limited to one variable—receipt of free or reduced price lunch. Using administrative survey data from Michigan and detailed economic survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we evaluate what can be learned by observing student subsidized lunch eligibility over time in a trajectory framework. We find six common patterns of childhood disadvantage trajectories, describe their underlying characteristics, and evaluate their associations with high school completion and college entry. Our analyses illustrate that even with limited administrative information, a trajectory approach enhances measurement of student background and reveals nuance in the relationship between economic disadvantage and educational attainment.

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.