Dispersal and Concentration: Patterns of Latino Residential Settlement

  • December 27, 2004

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, most Latinos do not live in densely packed, highly homogenous, Spanish-language communities dominated by immigrant cultures. Rather, most live in neighborhoods with non-Hispanic majorities.

And many neighborhoods where Latinos make up the majority are surprisingly diverse. Those neighborhoods contain a mix of native-born and foreign-born Latinos, Spanish speakers and English speakers, the poor and the middle class, according to a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The study reveals that some 20 million Hispanics—57 percent of the total—live in neighborhoods in which Hispanics make up less than half of the population, according to an analysis of data from the 2000 Census. In the places were these Latinos live, only an average of seven percent of the residents are Hispanic. This pattern holds for Latino immigrants and low-income Hispanics, although to a somewhat lesser degree.

The remaining share of the Hispanic population—43 percent—lives in neighborhoods where Latinos are a majority. These communities are large, and they are growing faster than neighborhoods in which Latinos are a minority. Between 1990 and 2000, the Hispanic population grew most in big cities which already had large Hispanic populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, and these majority-Latino neighborhoods have spread throughout the country's major urban areas. Although these neighborhoods can be highly visible and sometimes controversial, they are not the norm for the Latino population.

"These findings have important implications for the way we understand the process of assimilation,” said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic and co-author of the report. “Most Latino immigrants are living in neighborhoods where the folks next door are likely to be native-born, English-speaking, non-Hispanic Americans. And, even those living in neighborhoods where most of the residents are other Latinos are being exposed to a lot of English and a lot of non-immigrant Latinos."

The Pew report shows that on a larger geographic scale both immigrant and native-born Latinos have dispersed to states other than those with long-standing Hispanic populations. Overall, the Latino population in the eight states which collectively make up the so-called “new settlement states” grew by 130 percent between 1990 and 2000. These states are Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Nearly 4 million Latinos lived in these new settlement states by 2000, and growth in minority-Latino neighborhoods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all growth of the Hispanic population in these states. As of 2000, as many as 3 million Latinos lived in these minority-Latino neighborhoods within new settlement states. On the other hand fewer than one million Latinos in these new settlement states lived in concentrated Latino neighborhoods.

“The Hispanic population in Latino-majority communities is considerably diverse in terms of nativity, language and income,” said Suro. “While low-income, Spanish-speaking, foreign-born Latinos represent a large share of the population in these neighborhoods, they are by no means the majority.”

Some of the major findings of the study include:

  • In 2000, most Latinos, 57 percent, lived in neighborhoods where Latinos constituted less than half of the population while 43 percent lived in census tracts where Latinos were a majority of the population.
  • By this measure the Hispanic population is somewhat less concentrated than the African-American population. Some 48 percent of the black population lived in tracts with a majority black population.
  • The number of Hispanics living in majority-Latino neighborhoods grew faster (76%) than the number in minority-Latino neighborhoods (51%) between 1990 and 2000.
  • A greater share of the Hispanic foreign-born population (48%) lived in majority-Latino neighborhoods than the native-born (39%). But, most people in both nativity categories lived in minority-Latino neighborhoods.
  • Language is a powerful factor in neighborhood distribution. Over three-quarters of Latinos who speak only English lived in minority-Latino neighborhoods. Spanish-monolingual Latinos were more evenly divided between neighborhoods where Latinos predominate and those where they do not.
  • Spanish is spoken to some degree by most Hispanics living in neighborhoods where Latinos are the majority population, but English is also a strong presence. In 2000 more than half (58%) of the Latino residents of these neighborhoods were bilingual in English and Spanish and another sizeable share (14%) spoke only English. Individuals who spoke only Spanish constituted a little more than a quarter (28%) of the population in census tracts where more than half of the residents were Hispanics.
  • Although Latinos with higher incomes are more likely to live in minority-Latino neighborhoods, all income ranges are well represented both in majority- and minority-Latino communities.
  • Nearly half of the Latino population living in poverty was located in communities where most of their neighbors are not Hispanics.
  • In states with large, long-standing Hispanic populations, Latinos were almost evenly divided between majority- and minority-Latino communities in 2000. In the new settlement states, however, the number of Hispanics in non-Latino neighborhoods was more than three times larger than the number in heavily Latino communities.

The Pew Hispanic Center was founded in 2001 with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center conducts non-partisan research with the goal of improving understanding of the Hispanic population. It is a project of the Pew Research Center.

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