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Housing Segregation: History, Crime Rates and Collective Efficacy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1222 words Published: 18th May 2020

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There are many elements that go into the disparity of crime rates between different races. Elements such as race, ethnicity, and income all pay a large part in crime rates. While segregation is nothing new in America, these elements are some of the contributing factors to how and why our American neighborhoods are divided. Residential segregation creates strong patterns and characterize cities across the country. Segregation in housing has been the result of several factors such as covert discrimination and group choice. People often prefer to live among members of their own ethnic and racial group. Although there have been many federal and state laws prohibiting housing discrimination, it is still common in today’s day and age. For example, research from the 1980’s shows that of those who lived in Chicago and Detroit for instance, 88 percent of the residents lived in either all-white or all-African American neighborhoods. In other words, this meant that for a white person living in Detroit, 88 percent of potential contact with other people would involve other white people. For African Americans, this meant that 88 percent of potential contact with other people would involve other African Americans (Walker, 2012).

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While residential segregation is a problem of its own, it also has a direct impact on crime and crime rates. While most of the research found to support this involves African Americans, it also has the same effect with the Hispanic population. First off, the law abiding residents of these neighborhoods suffer the most with high rates of robbery, burglary, and other predatory crimes. Burglars themselves are generally poor and they attack the most available houses, which are those that tend to be in their immediate neighborhood. Second, the higher concentration of high-rate offenders in an area affects criminal activity due to peer group influence. Teenagers in high crime neighborhoods have immediate contact with people already involved in criminal activity. Those who are unemployed tend to “spend much more time with each other and as a result are more likely to influence each other in the direction of a greater propensity to commit crime” (Crutchfield, p. 196). This can effect even stable families as the sheer weight of peer influence can overwhelm and outweigh positive parental influence. Many individuals in these neighborhoods are socialized into crime when this would not be the case if they lived in a more diverse neighborhood with less crime.

As more people with better incomes move out, the overall economic level of the neighborhood declines. The physical deterioration of a neighborhood such as abandoned cars, buildings, and houses is a major sign that people do not care about their neighborhood which can invite criminal behavior into the neighborhood and its residents. According to Wesley Skogan, there is a six-stage process that impacts the fear of crime in deteriorating neighborhoods. First is withdrawal, residents begin to interact less with other residents with the ultimate withdrawal being to move away. This leads to a reduction in informal control over behavior by residents, in other words, people no longer report the behavior of neighborhood kids. Following this, organized life declines, fewer residents are active in community groups. These factors tend to lead to an increase in delinquency and disorder. At this point, the neighborhood becomes poorer and commercial decline sets in. The final stage is collapse where there is virtually no community remaining. One way to stop this pattern is by community policing. Community policing is designed to address small signs of disorder that cause people to withdraw. As well as police initiated partnerships and neighborhood meetings are put into place to help strengthen networks among residents and help give them a feeling of empowerment or collective efficacy in dealing with neighborhood problems (Skogan, 1977).

One way researchers are studying to combat segregation housing and a better way of living is understanding well-being. Social sciences are now understanding the quality of life people enjoy in terms of their well-being. Income and wealth do count, as well as being employed versus being un-employed and having health insurance. Another aspect of a person’s well-being has to do with social and cultural capital. This means that being part of a stable family goes a long way in increasing your happiness and well-being. Your personal well-being is also affected by the quality of life you live in your neighborhood. Research has shown that neighborhoods with strong bond between its residents are likely to have lower rates of crime than similar neighborhoods that do not have these bonds. This defines the term, collective efficacy, or being able to work together to fight disorder and crime (Sellin, 1938).

One way to achieve collective efficacy is by Robert Merton’s social strain theory. This theory explains that each society has a dominant set of values and goals along with acceptable means of achieving them in place (Merton, 1957). Social strain theory highly correlates with collective efficacy by pursuing a community wide goal of keeping peace in the neighborhood as well as keeping crime at bay. If everyone in the neighborhood follows a community wide goal then the neighborhood would be a safer place for everyone as well as fight against the stigma and habit of falling into segregation housing statistics. This goes a long way to easing the minds of residents in lower income neighborhoods (Skogan, 1986).

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After researching the history behind housing segregation and how it corelates to crime rates as well as collective efficacy, I have found that my friend’s statement of: “you know, I think that minorities commit more crime because they lack sufficient amounts of collective efficacy within their neighborhoods” can be found to be true. Overall, the American social structure plays a major role in shaping the relationships and correlations between race, ethnicity, and crime. The social strain theory is one method of explaining this relationship as it gives reasoning behind the higher rates of criminal behavior among the poor, racial, and ethnic minorities. So why there are many factors to high crime rates among minority populations, the most prominent would be the lack of collective efficacy.


  • Crutchfield, “Ethnicity, Labor Markets, and Crime,” p.196.
  • Merton, R., Social Theory and Social Structure (New York: Free Press, 1957).
  • Sellin, T., Culture Conflict and Crime, Bulletin 41 (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1938).
  • Skogan, W., “Fear of Crime and Neighborhood Change,” in Communities and Crime, A. Reiss and M. Tonry, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).
  • Skogan, W., Hartnett, S., Community Policing, Chicago Style (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).
  • Walker, S., Spohn, C., Delone, M. (2012). The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America. 5th Edition. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.


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