Contact Hypothesis in Context: Household Characteristics, Community Perception, and Racial/Ethnic Prejudice in the U.S.


  • Amanda Watson


Although overt racism has diminished, there remain vast racial and ethnic disparities in the United States. Many households are isolated from these disparities simply by where they live. Contact theory hypothesizes that under certain conditions, individual contact with minorities can decrease prejudice. Using a nationally representative sample from the 2000 General Social Survey, this paper explores contact, residential segregation, and anti-minority prejudice in American households. We employ linear regression techniques to analyze the characteristics of White respondents in White households by perception of community composition, region, city size, education, and household type, to identify prejudice against minority groups. Results indicate strong regional effects, with higher levels of prejudice in the South when compared to other regions. Anti-Hispanic prejudice is higher in the Northeast than in the South. Contact theory is not supported, except to show that the effect of more contact is greater on anti-Black prejudice in the Northeast than in the South. Following prior research, education was associated with lower prejudice, and age exhibited a positive relationship with prejudice. We also discuss the general implications of our findings.