Same as it ever was

With a few exceptions, ethnic mix south of Boston changes little

The Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum in Scituate documents the trade that drew Irish immigrants to coastal towns over a century ago. The Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum in Scituate documents the trade that drew Irish immigrants to coastal towns over a century ago. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / January 9, 2011

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The latest population estimates from the US Census Bureau confirm what many people south of Boston know about the communities they call home: While the more urban municipalities of Brockton, Quincy, and Randolph have grown more racially diverse over the past two decades, most area suburbs remain predominantly white.

Overall, the racial and ethnic composition in this southeastern part of the state has held steady since 1990. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2005-2009, the vast majority of communities in the region remain more than 90 percent white. (See full chart on Page 7.)

This area is still the most Irish in the state: The 16 communities in Massachusetts with the highest percentages of people of Irish descent are all here. Indeed, the South Shore’s “Irish Riviera’’ hasn’t changed much since the 1990 Census — and neither have many of its neighbors south of Boston.

Quincy, Brockton, and Randolph are the exceptions.

In Quincy, the Asian community has blossomed — and continues to grow. Census figures for the city show that its Asian population has nearly quadrupled, from 5,450 in 1990, to 13,956 in 2000, and, according to the most recent estimates at the start of last year, to 19,124 — 21.2 percent of the city’s total population.

This demographic shift began in the 1980s, according to John Brothers, executive director of Quincy Asian Resources Inc., a local nonprofit advocacy agency. Chinese immigrants began buying homes in Wollaston and North Quincy in the 1980s, drawn by the proximity to Boston, easy access to Chinatown via the MBTA Red Line, and affordable home prices.

“It’s been a continuous flow of new immigrants ever since,’’ said Brothers.

The change can be seen in the Quincy Public Schools. In 1994, Asian students made up 15 percent of the district; Asians now make up 32 percent of the district enrollment. In some schools, it’s even higher — Francis W. Parker Elementary School is 69 percent Asian; Wollaston Elementary School is 55.9 percent.

Long a center of manufacturing, Brockton has been an urban melting pot and is home to a large Cape Verdean community. Of the 93,000 residents in Brockton between 2005 and 2009, 24 percent were foreign-born, and 34 percent spoke a language other than English at home. The latest survey shows that just over half (52 percent) of Brockton’s population is non-white.

The town of Randolph has also become more racially diverse in recent years. Of its residents in 2005-2009, an estimated 29 percent were foreign-born and 33 percent spoke a language other than English at home. Randolph is also home to a sizeable black community that has been growing steadily since the 1980s.

Census data show that Randolph’s black population grew from 2,452 in 1990 to 7,171 in 2000. The latest estimates from the American Community Survey put Randolph’s black population at 10,822, or about 36 percent of the total population. And in just two decades, the white population in Randolph decreased by more than 10,000 — from 25,742 in 1990 to 19,914 in 2000; the number of whites living in Randolph is now estimated to be 14,851 — less than half of the town’s population.

And while total population has held steady around 31,000, enrollment in the Randolph public school system has dropped significantly: In 1994, the Randolph Public Schools had nearly 4,000 students, 65 percent of whom were white. By 2009, the student population had dropped to 2,851, and whites only made up 20 percent of the enrollment (51 percent were African-Americans; 16.5 percent were Asian, and 8.5 percent were Hispanic).

But outside of those three communities — and to a lesser extent Milton, Sharon, and largely blue-collar towns such as Norwood, Canton, Holbrook, Dedham, and Rockland — the suburban ethnic mix in this area has mostly stayed the same.

Irish-Americans continue to dominate by their numbers. The 2005-2009 American Community Survey shows that 19 of the top-20 most Irish communities in Massachusetts are south of Boston. Heading the list is Scituate, where nearly half (47.5 percent) of residents are of Irish descent. And at least 44 percent of people living in Braintree, Hull, Marshfield, Avon, Pembroke, and Milton claim Ireland as their ancestral home.

Ten years ago, it was the same story: Those same towns were among the top Irish communities in Massachusetts, according to the 2000 Census.

In fact, the South Shore has been home to a large Irish community for much longer, according to Richard Finnegan, professor of political science and director of Irish studies at Stonehill College.

The steady migration of Irish families from Boston to the South Shore goes back to the end of World War II, and continued through the 1950s and ’60s, he says.

But why have Boston’s Irish gravitated to the South Shore?

Finnegan said most of that had to do with geography.

“If you live in Dorchester or Hyde Park, you don’t think of moving to Swampscott,’’ he said. “Where will I move if I can get ahead and move up the social ladder? Quincy, Weymouth, and down the South Shore.’’

For the Irish in South Boston, Hyde Park, and Dorchester, said Finnegan, “their natural migration was to move south, because that’s where they went in the summer.

“When you’re on the south side [of the city] and looking to rent a beach house for a few weeks, you go to the South Shore,’’ he said.

It’s a pattern that continues to this day. “Families move where their family and friends are,’’ said Finnegan.

Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

I’m Irish, too
Most-Irish communities in Massachusetts
(The top 16 are all south of Boston)
47.5 Scituate
46.5 Braintree
45.8 Hull
45.6 Marshfield
44.9 Avon
44.9 Pembroke
44.6 Milton
44.5 Abington
44.3 Whitman
44.2 Hanover
43.4 Weymouth
43.0 Walpole
42.2 Holbrook
41.4 Duxbury
41.2 Norwell
40.8 Hanson
17.4 Boston
23.7 Massachusetts
Source: US Census Bureau, 2005-2009 American Community Survey
Percentage of population
that is non-Hispanic white:
Except for a handful of communities including Brockton, Quincy, and Randolph, the racial and ethnic mix in most locales south of Boston has stayed largely the same over the past two decades, according to Census data and estimates. Some examples:

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