What is White Flight?

The mass fleeing of many Americans from the inner cities was blamed for an increase in urban blight.
The mass fleeing of many Americans from the inner cities was blamed for an increase in urban blight.

The term “white flight” was commonly used in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It referred to the mass movement of white people from racially mixed areas to the exurban and suburban regions that were more racially homogeneous. For example, 15.5% of white homeowners in Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, 20% in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio, and 25% of the Detroit white population moved away from their homes to new neighborhoods due to racial integration. The most white flight took place when people of color, such as African Americans, moved from the southern United States to cities such as New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit.

Factors That Led to White Flight

The primary driving factor behind white flight was fear and racism. White homeowners were afraid of increased crime rates in their neighborhoods. They believed the settlement of African Americans were prone to engage in theft, murder, and other crimes. Secondly, white homeowners feared that the value of property in the racially mixed areas would drop significantly. At the time, even when only one African American moved into an all-white neighborhood, prices of the property would plummet.

In some instances, white flight was a direct demonstration of racism by some white Americans who felt they could not share their neighborhoods with people of color. When the courts ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional, most white homeowners still decided to move away from areas that African Americans lived in. Such rulings came during the Civil Rights Era where African Americans experienced segregation in workplaces, schools, and buses.

Forms of White Flight Outside the United States

At the end of Apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s, there was a mass migration of white residents from the country back to their home countries. A similar situation happened in Zimbabwe

Effects of White Flight

The first effect of white flight was a decline in population in city centers and therefore a decline in tax revenue. Secondly, there was de facto segregation in schools. Quality of life declined for many people who lived in urban areas, and many cities saw an increase in urban blight. 


Years later, some white Americans returned to the cities from where they migrated for various reasons. One reason is that the younger generation got tired of the long commutes to work and resorted to living near their workplaces. This process of return of white residents to the cities that they had fled from due to white flight is known as gentrification.


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