School Climate & Safety Report Roundup

Geography Is Destiny in Study of Children’s Social Mobility

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 06, 2013 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Communities with better public schools and more integrated housing offer better opportunities for poor children to climb out of poverty as they grow, according to a new study from the ongoing Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The study looked at 741 “commuting zones”—geographical groups of counties based on commuting patterns that are similar to metro areas but also cover rural areas—across the United States. Researchers analyzed characteristics of the communities in which children who were born between 1980 and 1981 grew up (to age 16), and then tracked those children’s income at age 30, in order to gauge how frequently children born poor, middle-class, or wealthy moved among the socioeconomic tiers.

Social mobility varies tremendously between different geographic areas, the study found. For example, a child born into the lowest 20 percent of family income in Gettysburg, S.D.—less than $25,000 a year—has more than a one-in-three chance of growing up to earn in the top 20 percent of Americans’ annual incomes (more than $70,000), while a child born in poverty in Salt Lake City or Scranton, Pa., has better than a one-in-10 chance of doing the same. By contrast, much of the South and Southwest has more limited social mobility. A child born in poverty in the Atlanta area has only a 4 percent chance of becoming a top earner. Even a middle-class child in that city has only a 14 percent chance of earning more than $70,000 by age 30.

The researchers found that social mobility did improve in communities with relatively stronger economies overall, but that the overall economy wasn’t the main source of differences in social mobility from city to city, nor was the cost of living. However, cities with a smaller middle class, and those in which the wealthiest and poorest families live farther apart geographically, had lower social mobility, suggesting that more economically integrated communities are associated with better social mobility.

In general, researchers found higher-than-average rates of social mobility in communities which, after controlling for income-level differences, had higher K-12 test scores, lower dropout rates, and higher per-student spending on education.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 07, 2013 edition of Education Week as Geography Is Destiny in Study of Children’s Social Mobility

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Q&A Making the Case for Schools That Don't Look Like Prisons
Claire Latané, a landscape architecture professor at Cal Poly Pomona, discusses how schools can design environments that support mental health.
6 min read
Freshmen at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va., eat lunch outside in the Senior Courtyard on March 1, 2023. The high school has three courtyards where students can access the outdoors during the day.
Freshmen at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va., eat lunch outside in the Senior Courtyard on March 1, 2023. The high school was highlighted in Claire Latané's book <i>Schools That Heal: Design with Mental Health in Mind</i> for its abundance of outdoor spaces.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
School Climate & Safety Sandy Hook Promise CEO: 'School Shootings Are Preventable'
There have been 152 shootings on K-12 school property that resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths since 2018.
2 min read
Back of a teen girl walking home from school while wearing a backpack with one strap hanging off her shoulder.
iStock/Getty
School Climate & Safety 6-Year-Old Won't Be Charged After Shooting Teacher, Prosecutor Says
The local prosecutor said his office has yet to decide if any adults will be held criminally accountable.
4 min read
Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., Jan. 30, 2023. Authorities in the Virginia city where a 6-year-old shot and wounded his teacher will not seek charges against the child, the local prosecutor told NBC News on Wednesday, March 8.
Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., Jan. 30, 2023. Authorities in the Virginia city where a 6-year-old shot and wounded his teacher will not seek charges against the child, the local prosecutor told NBC News on March 8.
Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP
School Climate & Safety A Superintendent Left His Gun in a School Restroom. A Student Found It
A Texas superintendent has resigned after a student found his gun unattended. The incident follows debates over arming teachers.
4 min read
Image of street signs: (1) Stop sign, and (2) Gun Free School Zone.
Education Week and sshepard/iStock/Getty