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Housing patterns in the nation's metropolises have slowly but surely become more racially integrated, a new study concludes.

Researchers at the University of Michigan's population-studies center compared 1980 and 1990 census data for 232 large cities and found that in 194 cities, the proportions of whites and blacks who lived apart had declined, continuing a trend that began in the 1970's.

The least segregated areas tend to be in the South, which has countywide governments that serve to limit the development of racially isolated suburbs, and the West, where the presence of other minority groups appears to have buffered blacks from white intolerance, the researchers say.

The study shows that whites and blacks tend to live closer in areas that have abundant newer housing or are near military bases, universities, or state capitals. Blacks and whites with similar incomes also tend to live closer to each other, the study says.

The most segregated metropolitan areas tend to be industrial centers in the Midwest or Northeast, or communities with large populations of retirees.

"Where there is a history of racial antagonism, a ring of white suburbs surrounding a black central city, and little new housing construction, segregation is likely to persist, despite more liberal white attitudes and government policies,'' the researchers say.

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