Inside the Black Box of 'White Flight': The Role of Suburban Political Autonomy and Public Goods

Leah Platt Boustan, Harvard University and Minnesota Population Center

Why did white households relocate to the suburbs in response to black in-migration, despite the presence of many all-white neighborhoods within segregated cities? By moving, residents could avoid compromising with black arrivals on property taxes and public expenditures and sending their children to diverse public schools. I use housing prices to reveal the marginal willingness to pay for this suburban autonomy by comparing neighboring blocks that fall on either side of city-suburban borders in 1970. To account for fixed differences in the housing stock, for example due to zoning, I also examine relative changes in housing prices across borders over time. Housing prices in diverse jurisdictions are worth 1.5-3.0 percent less than their suburban neighbors. The correlation between race and poverty – and the resulting increase in city property tax rates – accounts for half of this relationship. Parental preferences for white classmates in local public schools are also important.

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Presented in Session 48: Residential Segregation