If you don’t have rich parents, the difference between taking a bus and taking a private jet may depend on where you grew up.
That’s according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature in two parts on Monday. Researchers who studied 21 billion friendships on Facebook found that children had a greater chance of eventually climbing the social and professional ladders if they were friends with children in high-income families. The study indicated that this social and economic mixing is more common in some parts of the country than in other regions.
The study authors measured “social connectedness” — or the meaningful interaction between rich and poor populations — in counties across America, and determined that “if children with low-income parents would grow up in counties with economic cohesion comparable to those of an average child with high-income parents, Their incomes into adulthood will increase by 20% on average.”
The study also noted that the value of social bonding “is equivalent to the difference in average outcomes between a child growing up in a family earning $47,000 per year instead of $27,000 per year.”
Of the 200 largest counties in the country, these are the 11 largest cities in the study where this social interdependence thrives:
- San Francisco
- Utah County, Utah
- Loudoun, Virginia
- Snohomish, Washington
- Norfolk, Massachusetts
- Fairfax County, Virginia
- San Mateo, California
- Waukesha, Wisconsin
- Santa Clara, California
- Davis, Utah
San Francisco leads the pack: The study said residents have a roughly 80% chance of being exposed to their higher-income peers, and poorer people are 6% more likely to befriend someone in a higher-income household.
The reason has nothing to do with liking your friends’ luxury cars or designer bags. Instead, wealthy parents often pour resources into teaching their children how to communicate, apply for jobs, and acquire a range of professional skills — and children tend to share what they’ve learned with the people around them, according to the study.
Matthew Jackson, an economics professor at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors, says several factors could explain why this phenomenon is more prevalent in some cities than others, ranging from the size of local high schools to the particular attitudes of certain communities.
One of the biggest factors, Jackson says, is the city’s average income: The median household income in San Francisco is $119,000 a year, according to the United States Census. By comparison, Cameron County, Texas — one of the worst cities in the country for social connectedness, the study said — has a median household income of $41,200 a year.
“Often, areas that already exist [socially connected] Mostly wealthy, “I think that’s one of the challenges: How do you build these connections in the areas where you deal primarily with the poor?”
Jackson also says that financial segregation between rich and poor communities plays its part. If people of different income levels do not live in the same neighborhoods, they will interact less.
This research is not a closed book. For example, Jackson says he’s still trying to figure out why Minneapolis is more socially connected than Indianapolis, despite the two Midwestern cities’ similar demographics.
“It is difficult to know exactly what is responsible [that difference] And how much depends on the culture,” says Jackson. I think there’s a lot we’d like to know about what might strengthen these bonds between classes. “
Jackson says he hopes more data will help lift more people out of poverty.
“This data can help school administrators and community leaders understand why people are not communicating, and hopefully it will influence policies,” he says. “But this is an ongoing project. Now that the volume and richness of this data is available to many researchers, we hope we can begin to answer all kinds of questions.”
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