Social scientists in recent years have given priority to understanding upward mobility. They have used tax records and other data to study what factors increase the likelihood that children growing up in poverty will be able to survive it as adults.
Research shows that the education spread through college in pre-K plays a big role. Money is also important: Long, deep bouts of poverty can affect children for decades. Other factors – such as avoiding eviction, access to good medical care and growing up in a two-parent household – can also make upward mobility more likely.
Now there’s one more interesting factor to add to the list, thanks A study is being published this morning In the academic journal Nature: Friendship with people who are not poor.
Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and one of the study’s four lead authors, told The Times, “Growing up in a community that is aligned across classroom lines improves children’s outcomes and gives them a better shot at getting out of poverty. “
The study tries to measure the effect in several ways. One of the quickest, I think, compares two similar children in low-income households – one who grew up in a community where social interactions mostly come from the lower part of the socioeconomic distribution, and another who grew up in a lower-income community. Grow up in a community where social interactions mostly come from the upper echelons.
As the authors report, the mean difference between the two is significant in terms of their expected adult outcomes. It’s the difference between a child growing up in a family that earns $27,000 a year and someone growing up in a family that earns $47,000.
The study is based on a massive amount of data, including the Facebook friendships of 72 million people. (You can find out the findings via these charts and maps from The Upshot.)
Robert Putnam – a political scientist who has long studied social interactions, including in his book “Bowling Alone” – said the study was important partly because it hinted at ways to increase upward mobility. was. “It provides many avenues or clues by which we can start taking this country in a better direction,” he said.
In recent decades, the US has moved in the opposite direction. Growing economic inequality and a lack of new housing in many communities have helped increase economic isolation. Even within communities, cross-class social interaction has declined.
This chart shows the extent to which Americans differentiate themselves by class:
story of marie bowie
Chetty told me that there are three main mechanisms by which cross-class friendships can increase a person’s chances of surviving poverty.
The first is heightened ambition: Social familiarity can give people a clearer sense of what is possible. The second is basic information, such as how to apply for college and for financial aid. The third is networking, such as getting a recommendation for an internship.
My colleague Claire Cain Miller, after speaking with the study’s authors in recent weeks, set out to find some real-life examples of its findings. Claire focused on Angelo Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, California, a mid-sized city between Sacramento and Oakland. The school has an unusually high number of cross-class interactions. One of the people Claire interviewed was 24-year-old Mari Bowie, who grew up in a lower-middle-class family that faced divorce, layoffs, and lost homes—and who had grown up with rich girls in high school. Befriended.
“My mom really inspired the hard work in us — being knowledgeable about our family history, you have to be better, you have to do better,” Bowie said. “But I didn’t know anything about the SAT, and my friends’ parents signed up for this class, so I thought I should. My friends’ parents watched my private statements .
Today, Bowie is a criminal-defense attorney. She got a job through a friend of her high school friend.
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Angelo Rodriguez High School is a remarkable case study because it is more economically and racially diverse than most schools. This diversity is essential for a high degree of socio-economic integration. But that’s not enough, the study authors say. In some diverse communities, low- and high-income Americans lead relatively separate lives.
In others, cross-class interactions are more common. The study does not fully explain the differences. But Claire found that the high school had taken deliberate steps to engage people.
The school did not draw its students from just one community. It was instead an unusually shaped district, which included both poor and wealthy neighborhoods, and also admitted few students from outside that district’s boundaries. The school’s open architecture also encouraged serious socialization. “Casual, unstructured interaction between students was a very high priority,” said John Defenderfer, one of the school’s architects.
What could increase cross-class interaction elsewhere?
Among the promising possibilities, the researchers say: more housing, including subsidized housing, in well-off areas; more diverse K-12 schools and colleges; and specific efforts – such as public parks that attract a diverse mix of families – to encourage interaction between rich and poor.
Churches and other religious organizations may have some lessons to teach other parts of society. Although many churches are socioeconomically homogeneous, those with some diversity promote more cross-class interactions than other social activities. Churches have low levels of what researchers call the socioeconomic “friendship bias”.
Conversely, youth sports have become more isolated, as affluent families flock to so called travel team,
A successful attempt to increase interactions would probably need to address the particular roles of race as well. The study found that there are less cross-class friendships in more racially diverse locations.
“Our society is structured in ways that discourage this type of cross-class friendship from occurring, and many parents, who are often white, are making choices about where to live and raise their children. Which extra-curriculars to put in those connections are less likely, said Indiana University sociologist Jessica Calarco. Claire’s story elaborates more on the role of race.
The stagnation of living standards is such a big problem for working class and poor Americans that no change will solve it. But the explosion of academic research about upward mobility, including this new study, has at least offered a clear understanding of what might help. Social integration appears to play an important role.
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