Today, our armed services are practically beacons of racial integration, at least compared to the rest of the United States. And, according to new study, that doesn't go away once people leave active duty: Veterans buy homes in areas that are up to 10 percent less segregated, suggesting the military desegregation that began decades ago has had a lasting, positive effect on those who've served.
That's not to say race relations in the armed services are perfect—they're not—but "[i]n stark contrast to civilian society, the U.S. military has evolved to foster greater racial equality and represents a rare racially integrated social institution," write Jacob Rugh and Mary Fischer in a paper they presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Society in Chicago. "Yet it remains unclear whether military veterans are more racially integrated among the civilian population."
White VA borrowers bought homes in census tracts with about three percent more non-whites compared with white non-veterans.
It's not that there aren't plenty of reasons to already assume veterans to be more open to integration once they've left active duty, Rugh and Fischer argue. Most notably, being forced to work around people of other races and backgrounds likely shapes soldiers' attitudes and preferences regarding race, a phenomenon known as the contact hypothesis. It's just that no one seems to have formally looked at the effects of military service after that service ends.
With that in mind, Rugh and Fischer looked to home loan data reported under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which requires certain lenders to disclose the type of home loan—in particular, whether it was a Veterans Affairs loan—along with demographic data about recipients, and the area where they're buying a home. The researchers narrowed their focus to loans issued between 2008 and 2013, in 98 metropolitan areas across the country, which they compared with U.S. Census Bureau data on the ethnic mix of each area.
Controlling for a variety of socioeconomic and demographic factors, Rugh and Fischer found that white VA borrowers bought homes in census tracts with about three percent more non-whites compared with white non-veterans. Meanwhile, blacks and Latinos who borrowed through the VA program moved to areas with about nine percent fewer minorities compared with blacks and Latinos who received conventional loans, suggesting that veterans of all races were more likely to live among a more diverse group of people than the rest of us.
"Our findings suggest that black, Latino, and white veteran homeowners do in fact appear to experience lower levels of structural segregation and racial isolation," Rugh and Fischer write, although they caution their analysis can't say exactly why that is—likely, their results support the contact hypothesis, but more work needs to be done before they can say for sure.
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