Pew Study Finds That the Neighborhood You Live In Matters for Your Economic Mobility

Share Article

Segregation of Rich and Poor May Make it Harder to Climb the Economic Ladder; New Study Looks at 96 U.S. Metropolitan Areas to Understand Why Location Matters for Economic Mobility

News Image
Where you live matters to economic mobility. Neighborhoods play an important role in determining a family's prospects of moving up the economic ladder.

A study released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that the economic segregation of neighborhoods is linked to a person’s prospects for moving up or down the economic ladder, known as economic mobility. In an analysis of 96 U.S. metropolitan areas, Pew found that those with distinct pockets of concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty have lower economic mobility than places where residents are more economically integrated. The report highlights the role that local communities play in determining Americans’ mobility prospects.

“Where you live matters to economic mobility,” said Erin Currier, who directs Pew’s economic mobility research. “Neighborhoods play an important role in determining a family’s prospects of moving up the economic ladder, which is especially important since a majority of metro areas have become more economically segregated over time. This has powerful implications for policymakers who want to ensure that all Americans have equal opportunities.”

The study, “Mobility and the Metropolis: How Communities Factor Into Economic Mobility”, was undertaken by Patrick Sharkey, associate professor of sociology at New York University, and Bryan Graham, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. It builds on previous Pew research, which found that a number of states, primarily in the Mideast and New England regions, have higher mobility than the national average, while others, primarily in the South, have lower mobility. Taking the research to a more local level, this study looks specifically at whether neighborhood economic segregation, or the degree to which the poor and wealthy live apart from one another, affects opportunities for economic mobility.

Among the findings:

  • Economic mobility varies considerably across U.S. metro areas.
  • Some metro areas are more economically segregated than others, meaning there is substantial variation in the degree to which the neighborhoods of the poor are distinct from the neighborhoods of the rich.
  • Rates of neighborhood economic segregation have increased over time.
  • Neighborhood economic segregation is linked to economic mobility, indicating that metro areas with distinct pockets of concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty have lower economic mobility than places in which the wealthy and the poor are more integrated.

Some of the most economically segregated metro areas include New York; Newark, N.J.; Washington; Los Angeles; and Houston. Some of the least economically segregated areas include Tacoma, Wash.; Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.; New Bedford, Mass.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Pittsburgh.

“Understanding not just how, but why, location matters is critical for policymakers,” Currier said. “These findings identify a need for strategies to reduce neighborhood economic segregation.”

To conduct this study, Professors Sharkey and Graham used three nationally representative data sets to measure differences in economic mobility over the past generation across a selection of the most populous metro areas. The metro areas were then identified as high-, average-, and low-mobility areas. Their analysis next looked at whether rates of economic segregation, as measured by the Neighborhood Sorting Index, are related to rates of economic mobility. Data come from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and 1997 cohorts and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Andrea Risotto
Visit website