It was one of the most significant demographic trends of the latter half of the 20th century. It has also been one of the more controversial issues demographers and sociologists have struggled to interpret. The subject of white residents fleeing to the suburbs from cities, so-called â€œwhite flight,â€? is not, however, past history. Census 2000 reveals that a second wave of white migration is occurring today, the causes of which are both complex and disputable. American Demographics asked two leading demographers to offer their interpretations of this recent population shift.
William H. Frey, the Milken Institute and University of Michigan demographer who coined the term â€œnew white flightâ€? in American Demographics (April, 1994) now finds this dispersal accelerating to outer suburbs and, regionally, to the whiter New Sunbelt. Frey believes that this relocation, while not strictly a flight from immigrants or minorities, reflects, in part, the high cost of city living and a yearning for a suburban lifestyle. He believes the movement will supersede its postwar predecessor in creating a wider regional separation of the nation's mostly suburban whites from its more urban minority populations.
Roderick J. Harrison, director of the DataBank at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington D.C., and associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Howard University, agrees with Frey that white migration is taking place and that it is primarily lifestyle-driven. However, he objects to the use of the term â€œwhite flightâ€? to describe this migration, arguing that doing so dilutes our understanding of what white flight really is, and of the white flight that actually is still occurring, probably on a reduced level, today.
Frey and Harrison use the latest Census data to substantiate their arguments. While the numbers may be indisputable, the reasons for the new white migration are debatable. Here are their perspectives.