Race and Reciprocity: Inter-household Exchanges in a Multiracial Neighborhood1

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Abstract

This study investigates the degree to which African-American households are socially integrated into a multiracial, middle-class suburban neighborhood near Dallas, Texas. Although U.S. neighborhoods are becoming increasingly heterogeneous in composition, little is known about black households' participation in social and informational networks within multiracial middle-class neighborhoods. Drawing on theories of the gift and social capital, we view neighborhoods in terms of complex patterns of inter-household exchanges of material and symbolic goods. We predict that black-led households will exchange at a lower rate with their neighbors than will other households and test this prediction using survey data collected from 119 households and from follow-up interviews with eight black heads of household. Our main finding from the survey is that black households exchanged at a significantly lower rate than did other households, ceteris paribus. The follow-up interviews found little evidence of black racial homophily in neighboring or of racism within the neighborhood. However, the low rate of black inter-household exchanges may be partly explained by black head of households' personal experiences of racism outside the neighborhood and by a racially constituted disposition against borrowing from neighbors. We discuss implications of our findings for research on racial integration and segregation.

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