Working Papers

Please email Peter for copies of these working papers:

Rich, Peter. “Choosing Segregation: The Importance of School Racial Composition in the Housing Choices of White Parents.” Working paper.

Parents choose, to the limit of their resources, where to raise their children and where their children go to school. Their choices can both reflect and reinforce social inequality. I evaluate local economic, geographic, and educational characteristics of where mobile households choose to live and to avoid, and how their sorting patterns vary by race and parental status. Using a McFadden discrete choice analysis of a 1997-2011 national sample of black and white households from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, I demonstrate that mobile white parents are more likely than mobile white non-parents to sort into neighborhoods with nearly all-white student populations. This racial sorting pattern persists even after accounting for home-ownership status and a range of local characteristics, including housing size and affordability, median neighborhood income, unemployment, poverty, and proximity to commercial centers. In contrast, black households show little variation in racial neighborhood sorting by parental status, and generally move into destinations with racially integrated rather than all-black or mostly-black schools. Crucially, I show that school factors—peer poverty composition, average class size, district per pupil funding, and academic achievement on standardized exams—also fail to explain white parents’ distinct inclination toward neighborhoods with segregated white public schools. These findings link the persistence of racial segregation to white parental agency in the housing market: as parents leverage their resources to 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).

Faber, Jacob and Peter Rich. “Financially Over-Extended: College Attendance as a Contributor to Foreclosures During the Great Recession.” Revise and resubmit.

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 household college enrollment expenses also put many families at higher risk of mortgage default as the economy contracted. With metropolitan-level data, we show that increasing rates of college attendance predict subsequent increases in the rate of foreclosures. Net of fixed characteristics and changes in employment and home financing, a one percent increase in college attendance in one year predicts over 19,000 foreclosures the following year.  This story is mirrored within household-level data showing that foreclosure was more common when occupants’ children reached college age. The evidence supports a growing concern that the rising costs of higher education create financial vulnerability for middle class families.

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

Besbris, Max, Jacob Faber, Peter Rich, and Patrick Sharkey. “The Geography of Stigma: Experimental Methods to Identify the Penalty of Place.” Chapter draft for Audit Studies: Behind the Scenes with Theory, Method and Nuance, ed. Michael Gaddis. Anticipated publication in 2017. New York, NY: Springer. Under Review. 

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.