Location, location, location, goes the old adage—usually indicating that the geography of the pricey real estate you are considering buying justifies its expense.
But a comprehensive new Harvard-Berkeley study suggests that location may be even more important to the poor if they are to have a crack at rising to the middle class or beyond.
To put it simply, geography is destiny when it comes to social mobility—more so at least than tax credits for the poor, heavy taxation of the rich, the presence of universities, affordability of tuition or proximity to extreme wealth.
The researchers found that proximity to middle-class areas in particular made intergenerational upward mobility likelier; a strong K-12 school system, higher test scores and lower dropout rates also helped; and, “some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents,” the study found.
In its Monday edition, The New York Times assembled the researchers’ data to create an interactive map that shows where the poorest Americans have the greatest shot at upward mobility and where they remain most stratified.
Among large American cities, a child raised in the bottom fifth in family income had the greatest chance of rising to the top fifth in Salt Lake City (11.5%), Seattle (10.4%) and Pittsburgh (10.3%). Mobility was also present in some of America’s largest metropolises such as Boston (9.8%), New York (9.7%) and Los Angeles (9.6%).
Mobility opportunities were smallest in cities of the South and industrial Midwest such as Memphis (2.6%), Atlanta (4%), Charlotte, N.C. (4.3%), Indianapolis (4.8%), Detroit (5.1%) and Columbus, Ohio (5.1%).