Widening socio‐economic disparities between urban and suburban communities have increasingly concerned urban scholars and policymakers. This is because growing disparities may be associated with the socio‐economic exclusion of disadvantaged households from jobs, housing and public services. However, existing empirical studies have not sufficiently addressed the importance of regional growth patterns that are associated with socio‐economic disparity and polarization within metropolitan areas. After identifying the intra‐metropolitan subareas of six metropolitan areas and utilizing longitudinal census data from 1970 to 2000, this research investigated intra‐metropolitan socio‐economic disparity and polarization in terms of income, class and race within six metropolitan areas exhibiting different regional growth trends and patterns. The primary focus of this research is the relationship between socio‐economic disparity and regional growth trends as well as patterns that pertain to both urban sprawl and compact development. The key findings of this study indicate that while metropolitan areas with compact development patterns show a relatively lower level of intra‐metropolitan socio‐economic disparity and polarization, those with urban sprawl exhibit a higher level over time, despite endogenous differences in each metropolitan area. Finally, this study discusses the issue of causality among spatial patterns and socio‐economic disparities as well as policy implications for promoting metropolitan growth patterns aimed at socio‐economic integration and balanced metropolitan growth.