US research shows that economic progress in a white neighbourhood leads to retention of whites, while a similar scenario in a minority neighbourhood makes the community become ‘more white’.

This seems to be one of the main conclusions of a study conducted recently by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences (USC) – that gentrification is drawing more whites to minority neighbourhoods, leading to displacement of minorities in these environments.

According to the USC study of census data, neighbourhood ascent, which is a broad definition of gentrification, is associated with racial or ethnic change.

To put it plainly, gentrifying neighbourhoods become more white, altering minority communities.

Ann Owens, the study's lead author and a sociologist at the USC, observes that socioeconomic ascent is actually perpetuating existing racial inequality within and between neighbourhoods.

The research by Owens and study co-author Jennifer Candipan, also of USC, was based on Census and American Community Survey data in 380 metropolitan areas spanning a 20-year period from 1990 to 2010 to determine how frequently a neighbourhood's rise in economic status corresponded to a drastic change in its racial and ethnic makeup.

A key finding of the study was that neighbourhoods experiencing an economic boom were more likely to experience a change in racial makeup.

Twenty-five percent of these neighbourhoods were identified as ‘ascending’, which meant their median incomes had doubled, their share of residents with a college degree had increased by 14 percentage points, their share of residents working white-collar jobs had increased 15 points, and housing costs had doubled. Within the 20-year period, the ascending neighbourhoods became more populated with white people.

The researchers found that whites became the majority among 11 percent of the ascending, majority-black neighbourhoods, 5 percent of the ascending, majority-Asian neighbourhoods and 6 percent of the majority-Hispanic neighbourhoods.

Ascending neighbourhoods with primarily black or Hispanic families became mixed race while ascending mixed-race neighbourhoods were nine times more likely to become mostly white than the initially mixed-race neighbourhoods that did not rise economically. On the other hand, white neighbourhoods tended to remain white following socioeconomic improvement.

Owens wonders how neighbourhoods can be revitalised without changing the character of the area or displacing people.

Some cities, according to Owens, are freezing property taxes or laws that preserve affordable housing to prevent residents from being squeezed out of the rental market.