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 inequalities. I evaluate where mobile parents and non-parents choose to live, and how their decisions vary by race and local characteristics. 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. Strong evidence of parental racial sorting persists even after accounting for home-ownership status and the characteristics of local options, including housing size and affordability, median neighborhood income, unemployment, poverty, and proximity to commercial centers. In contrast, black households show little variation by parental status in neighborhood sorting, and generally move into destinations with racially integrated rather than all-black or mostly-black schools. Crucially, I also show that school factors—peer poverty composition, average class size, district per pupil funding, and academic achievement on standardized exams—fail to explain white parents’ distinct inclination toward neighborhoods with segregated white public schools. These findings connect the persistence of racial segregation to white parental agency in the housing market: as white parents leverage their resources to secure perceived educational advantages for their own children, they express and fortify a legacy of racial inequality.
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Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
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