Ethnic Preferences, Social Distance Dynamics, and Residential Segregation: Theoretical Explorations Using Simulation Analysis* Academic Article uri icon


  • In this paper I consider theories of residential segregation that emphasize social distance and ethnic preference dynamics. I argue that these theories are more compelling than many critics have supposed, and I conclude that they deserve to be considered more carefully. I then use simulation methodology to assess the potential impact of social distance and ethnic preference dynamics on ethnic segregation under certain theoretically interesting conditions. Based on the results from the simulation analyses, I offer three conclusions: (1) status preferences and status dynamics have the capacity to produce high levels of status segregation but do not produce high levels of ethnic segregation under the specified simulation conditions; (2) ethnic preferences can, under certain theoretically interesting conditions specified in these simulations, produce high levels of ethnic segregation in the absence of housing discrimination; and (3) ethnic preferences and social distance dynamics can, when combined with status preferences, status dynamics, and demographic and urban-structural settings common in American cities, produce highly stable patterns of multi-group segregation and hyper-segregation (i.e., high levels of ethnic segregation on multiple dimensions) of minority populations. Based on these model-based theoretical explorations I speculate that the persistence of segregation in recent decades may have been overdetermined, that is, it may have been sustained by multiple sufficient causes including not only discrimination, but also social distance and preference dynamics. This raises the possibility that reductions in housing discrimination may not necessarily lead to large declines in ethnic segregation in the short run because social distance and preference dynamics may be able to sustain ethnic segregation at surprisingly high levels in the absence of housing discrimination.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Mathematical Sociology

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)


citation count

  • 182

complete list of authors


publication date

  • January 2006