On the Proposed Ordinance to Prohibit the Feeding of Certain Wildlife
Planned West Davis Adult Community, if Approved, Would Perpetuate Racial Imbalance in the City of Davis

How White Is Davis Anyway? A Comparative Demographic Analysis

Part Two in a series, this article examines historic racial/ethnic demographics in Davis compared to surrounding areas and California as a whole in order to determine what sort of effect historic patterns of discrimination may have had.

"The Past Isn't Dead. It Isn't Even Past"

By Rik Keller

The first installment of this series, “Why Is So Davis So White? A Brief History of Discrimination”, provided an overview of mortgage loan redlining, restrictive covenants, and other discriminatory housing practices in the U.S., with examples from Davis showing the extent of overt discrimination in housing practices that led to excluding non-white populations from specific areas.

The article concluded with a brief summary that described how In Davis—as in many areas of the U.S.—redlining, restrictive covenants, and other discriminatory practices effectively locked out minorities from being able to participate in one of the greatest mass opportunities for wealth accumulation in U.S. history: the post-WWII housing boom. And even as overtly discriminatory practices started to be curtailed, post-WWII municipal zoning practices in the 1950s— especially in fast-growing suburban areas—emphasized large-lot single-family homes as a way to exclude more affordable housing types and to continue patterns of racial/ethnic/income segregation. One common misconception when discussing housing is that discrimination in the U.S. ended some time in the 1960s. Davis is an example of how the wealth disparities that were accentuated by these policies and practices persist today with residential patterns and housing opportunities distributed along particular racial/ethnic lines, along with ongoing discrimination.

Background on the Data

This author collected U.S. Census data from 1970 to 2016 in order to provide comparisons among different jurisdictions/geographic areas. This was not done for prescriptive purposes to suggest ideal distributions of populations along racial/ethnic lines, but rather to provide a reference or baseline for comparison of changes over time for a descriptive analysis: If we want to describe how “white” Davis is, we need to provide a comparison to other places.

However, comparisons of race/ethnicity across different time periods are problematic because of different questions and changes in methodology in the U.S. Census. Therefore, if data for a jurisdiction like Davis were looked at on their own, changes over time that are caused by definitional or tabulation changes might falsely appear as an increase of a particular population. One example of changes in methodology is the following:

“In the case of Other race, there was a dramatic population increase from 1970 to 1980. This reflected the addition of a question on Hispanic origin to the 100-percent questionnaire, an increased propensity for Hispanics not to identify themselves as White, and a change in editing procedures to accept reports of "Other race" for respondents who wrote in Hispanic entries such as Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican. In 1970, such responses in the Other race category were reclassified and tabulated as White.”

[“Historical Census Statistics On Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For Large Cities And Other Urban Places In The United States” by Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, Population Division, Working Paper No. 76, U.S. Census Bureau, February 2005]

Through 1950, census-takers commonly determined the race of the people they counted. From 1960 on, Americans could choose their own race. Starting in 2000, Americans could include themselves in more than one racial category. Before that, many multiracial people were counted in only one racial category. The decline in the African American population share from the 1990 Census to the 2000 Census nationwide can be explained by that. Even from the 2000 to 2010 Census there were changes in the wording of questions on race and Hispanic origin that may have caused apparent shifts in demographics.

Another reason for “baselining” is to track relative shares at given points in time as well as changes over time. This is helpful in determining, for example, if California has a greater representation of minority groups compared to the U.S as a whole, or how a particular locality compares to both its geographic context in California as well as to neighboring jurisdictions. It can provide indications of anomalies in demographics that should be investigated to try to explain causes.

This article discusses the four largest racial/ethnic groups in California and their share of the overall population: White, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and African American (there is also an “Other” category analyzed, which, for the purposes of the article and comparisons over time, includes the Census categories of “American Indian and Alaskan Native” plus "Other”, and, from the year 2000 on, adds in "Two or More Races").

Because race/ethnicity are accounted for differently in the Census and are overlapping categories, looking at various tabulations for the “white population” does not provide an adequate base of comparison and indeed leads many casual observers of this type of data astray from a closer examination of the makeup and racial/ethnic diversity of non-white groups. Therefore, somewhat counterintuitively, this examination of “How White Is Davis?” intends to foreground the composition and share of racial/ethnic minority groups in addition to simply reporting on the White population to answer that question. Additionally, this has been done because the focus of this series is on discrimination that has led to under-representation of certain minority groups in certain places.

There are several further issues to discuss before jumping into the data. First, the Census did not start tracking Hispanic origin until the 1970 Census (though the term “Hispanic” did not start to be used until the 1980 Census). There was a “Mexican” identifier in the 1930 Census that was eliminated by 1940; there was a question about Spanish language in the 1940 Census, but not in 1950 or 1960; and there was a question about Spanish surname for five Southwestern states starting with the 1950 Census. Because of this, it is difficult to enumerate Hispanic population before 1970. However, the racial/ethnic distribution patterns that we see in 1970 can be presumed to be partly the result of the historic discriminatory practices discussed in the first article in the series. And these patterns from 1970 can be seen to be carried forward to the present day.

In the Census, “Hispanic Origin” is an ethnic classification based on country of origin and language: “Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.” On the other hand, the Census “collects race data according to U.S. Office of Management and Budget guidelines… People may choose to report more than one race group. People of any race may be of any ethnic origin.” [https://www.census.gov/topics/population/race.html]

The White population figures presented in this article for 1970 include persons of Hispanic origin because this author was unable to find a Census tabulation down to the level of “place” geography that separated this data. For years since then (including the decennial Census from 1980-2010, not presented in this article) data is available that reports the White (alone, not “two or more races”) non-Hispanic/Latino population. To provide an example of how definitions change the tabulations, in California in 2017 the “White alone” (not two or more races) population was estimated by the Census at 72.4% while the “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino” population was estimated at 37.2%.

Demographic Data 1970-2016

Table 1 below shows a compilation of data for total population and population by different racial/ethnic categories (which also evolved over time in terms of how the Census captured them) for California as a whole, Davis, Woodland, and the remainder of Yolo County excluding Davis and Woodland from the 1970 Census and from 2016 Census estimates. The table shows total, White, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African American, and Other population counts since 1970, 1970 was chosen as a starting point for the comparison because the largest minority racial/ethnic group in California (and especially in Yolo County) is the Hispanic/Latino population, and there is only reliable data for that group since 1970. While the author collected, tabulated, and analyzed data for every decennial Census from 1970 to 2010, this article just discusses the overall change from 1970 to 2016 in order to keep data overload for the reader at a minimum.

As shown in the table, in 1970, the White population accounted for about 89% of the total California population, 94% of the Yolo County population excluding Davis and Woodland, 96% of the Woodland population, and 94% of the Davis population. The Hispanic/Latino population accounted for about 14% of the total California population, 21% of the Yolo County population excluding Davis and Woodland, 21% of the Woodland population, but only 4.5% of the Davis population in 1970.

African Americans had the second highest share of the total 1970 California population at 7.0%, but had very low representation in Yolo County (1.2%), Woodland (1.1%), and Davis (1.4%).

Asians represented 2.8% of the statewide population in 1970, with slightly lower rates in Yolo County (2.5%), a slightly higher rate in Davis (3.8%), and a significantly lower rate in Woodland at 0.9%.

For the city of Davis, the biggest conclusion from the 1970 data is that while the White population percentage in Davis was similar to California and other local jurisdictions, because of the way the categories are tabulated just looking at these figures masks some important differences. One of these is that the Hispanic/Latino population—the most populous minority group in the state and in the region—had a very small representation in Davis at less than ⅓ of the statewide share.

This disparity is even more striking given Davis’ location in Yolo County where both Woodland and remainder of Yolo County (not including Davis or Woodland) had a much higher representation of Hispanics/ Latinos at more than 4.5 times the rate in Davis. This data on the Hispanic/Latino population compared to the White population in Davis provides strong evidence that this group was excluded from Davis based on historic discriminatory lending patterns, restrictive CC&Rs, and other factors discussed in Part One of this series.

Table 1


As shown in Table 1 above, these disparities continued forward from 1970 such that persons of Hispanic/Latino origin only accounted for an estimated 14.3% of the total Davis population in 2016 compared to 38.6% in California, 46.1% in Woodland and 34.5% in Yolo County exclusive of Davis and Woodland.

The share of the African American population in Yolo County has been very low historically compared to California as a whole (though it has increased some). The representation of African Americans in the Woodland population (1.3%) was very low, while the rest of Yolo County excluding Davis and Woodland was at a slightly higher rate (3.0%) than Davis (2.8%).

Davis had an estimated Asian population share in 2016 (22.5%) that was more than California as a whole (14%), the only category analyzed for which this is the case. Woodland had a much lower share (9%), while Yolo County excluding Woodland and Davis was still significantly below state levels at 12%.

Davis had a very low percentage of “Other” category in 2016, which includes the “other” Census category along with people who selected “two or more races”. At less than 11%, Davis share of persons in this category was only 60% of figures for California, Woodland, and Yolo County average excluding Woodland and Davis of 18-19%

Finally, the White population (“White alone, not Hispanic or Latino”) in Davis was 55.6% of the total population in 2016, about 45% more than the 38.4% figure in California as a whole. Woodland’s percentage of White persons was slightly more than California at 41.6% Yolo County exclusive of Davis and Woodland was at 46.5%. As discussed below, the relatively large Asian population in Davis somewhat masks the underrepresentation of other minority racial/ethnic groups if only the White population percentage were examined.


How the UC Davis Student Population Influences the Racial/Ethnic Mix in Davis

Before drawing conclusions from the racial/ethnic mix just described, it is important to examine the size and growth of the UC Davis student population and its effect on the city of Davis population. This is especially true given that UC Davis enrollment has grown at a much faster rate than City of Davis, Yolo County, and state of California population growth since 2000, and also given that UC Davis has housed a smaller share of students on campus over that time. While students living on-campus are not counted in Census tabulations as part of the city of Davis, students living off-campus in Davis are included. To the extent that the demographics of UC Davis students are different from the demographics of the rest of the city, this transient student population can skew analysis of the changes over time of the relative diversity of Davis compared to other areas.

One way to account for this is to look at cross-tabulations of race/ethnicity and age. The 18 to 24 year age cohort can be used as a generalized proxy for the student population and compared to population in other areas. As it turns out, there is an important caveat about the data for Davis regarding the Asian population in particular: As shown in Table 2 below, about 51% of the Asian population in Davis is college-aged (18-24), whereas that age cohort makes up only about 9% of the Asian population in California as a whole and 10% in Woodland. Without Asian UC Davis students living off-campus in town, the share of the Asian population in Davis as a percentage of the total would be less than California.

Table 2


Additionally, concentration of the population in the college-aged cohort is not limited to the Asian population in Davis as there are similar statistics for the Hispanic/Latino population. As shown in Table 3 below, over 37% of the Hispanic/Latino population in Davis is college-aged, which is more than 3 times the representation of that age cohort in the Hispanic/Latino population of California and Woodland, both at around 13%. Without Hispanic/Latino UC Davis students living off-campus in town, the population would be even more underrepresented in Davis.

Table 3


Looking at this issue in a different way, Table 4 below shows the percentage of Hispanic/Latino population compared to the total population within each age cohort. As shown in the table, the age cohort where Hispanics/Latinos have the highest share of the total population in Davis is in the 5 to 17 year age group, at 20.2% of the total population. However, this share is still several multiples less than the same statistic for California (51.6%; 2.5 times more) and Woodland (60.6%; 3 times more).

Table 4


Older Age Groups

As shown in Table 2 above, the percentage of the Asian population in older age groups in Davis is very low at only just above 4% for both the 55-64 year age cohort and the 65+ year age group. In comparison, statewide across California and in Woodland, these age cohorts account for about 13% each of the total Asian population.

Table 3 above shows that Hispanics/Latinos in older age groups are severely underrepresented in Davis and only make up about 5.2% (2.4% for 55 to 64 years + 2.8% for 65+ years) of the overall Hispanic/Latino population in Davis, compared to almost 3 times those rates in California and Woodland, with both around 14%.

And while, as shown in Table 1, Hispanics/Latinos make up just 14% of the total population in Davis which is an extremely low figure compared to California, Woodland, and Yolo County, as Table 4 shows, they only make up 4% of the total population in the 55 to 64 year and 65+ year age groups in Davis, more than 3 times less than their share in the overall Davis population.

Another important conclusion to be drawn from the data broken down by age group is that the representation of Whites in the Davis population is particularly pronounced in older age groups. As shown in Table 5 below, “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino” persons in 2016 Census estimates made up 79.5% of the total Davis population of persons ages 55 to 64 and 81.5% of the total Davis population of persons at 65+ years of age. These are much higher rates than for the overall population of Davis (55.6%;see Table 1), as well as for the share of the total population aged 55 to 64 years and 65+ years in California (51.8% and 59.4%) and Woodland (56.0% and 63.8%).

Table 5



Overall, Davis has a much lower representation of racial/ethnic minorities than the state of California as a whole as well as Woodland and Yolo County, and the representation of Whites is substantially higher particularly in the 55+ age cohort.

The most significant underrepresented group in Davis is Hispanics/Latinos who made up almost 39% of California’s population in 2016. In Davis, that group was only 14% of the total population. For some historical perspective, in 2016, the percentage of Hispanics/Latinos out of the total population in Davis was at such a low level (14%) that it was at approximately the same percentage that Hispanics/Latinos were of the total California population almost 50 years ago in 1970. Furthermore, the representation of Hispanics/Latinos among the older population in Davis in 2016 (4%) was at such a low level that it was less than the representation of that group in the overall population of Davis almost 50 years ago in 1970 (4.5%).

These disparities are further compounded by the homeownership rate among the Hispanic/Latino population in Davis, which, at 23.9% in 2010 (the most recent Census data available), was less than half of the homeownership rate among white non-Hispanics in Davis at 52.0%. Homeownership rates for Hispanics/Latinos in California and Woodland were almost identical at 44.5% and 44.3% respectively, while the remainder of Yolo County besides Davis and Woodland had a homeownership rate among Hispanics/Latinos of 50.4%. Overall, Hispanics/Latinos were only 5.5% of all homeowners in Davis in 2010, a rate almost 4 times less than in California at 21.4% and more than 5 times less than in Woodland at 28.2%.

Part three of this series will expand the discussion on these disparities in housing in Davis and address "Keeping Davis White: Continuing Exclusion?” What policies and programs have had or would have the effect of continuing these exclusionary patterns? What is the legal status of these programs and policies? And how do we enact policies and programs to avoid continuing these past patterns and make the community more inclusive?

This article will also discuss the background and legislative intent of the language in Measure R (2010) regarding the policy goal of an “adequate housing supply to meet internal City needs,” including the statement in the 2007 City Of Davis General Plan Update regarding “the primary reason for city residential growth to provide housing opportunities for the local workforce,” the development and subsequent suspension of the City’s Middle Income housing program from 2005-2009 that was intended to partially address the internally-generated housing need for the low and moderate income workforce, and the weakening in 2018 of the provisions for low-income housing in the City’s Affordable Housing Ordinance.


Rik Keller is a university instructor in communication studies and social work. He has 17+ years of professional experience in demographic analysis and housing policy & analysis in Texas, Oregon, and California after obtaining his master’s degree in city planning. He is also a 10+ year Davis resident and a current renter.


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