A Case for Integration
A handful of researchers at Harvard University and UC Berkeley published an interesting white paper this week (1). In summary, they found that economic mobility is dependent on geography. In particular, children who grow up in areas with varying levels of income have a better chance of climbing up the economic ladder. Let me illustrate this with Kid A and Kid B:
Kid A comes from a low-income family and lives in a mixed-income area in Salt Lake City. Other low-income families, middle-income families, and affluent families all live in Kid A's part of the city.
Kid B comes from a low-income family and lives in a low-income area of Atlanta. All families in his neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are low-income. Affluent families live miles and miles away (most certainly in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody).
So who has a better chance of improving their economic mobility in the future? That's right; it's Kid A.
Why? Because integration is good! In fact, it's crucial. And integration matters for all kinds of disparities. For example, an economist at Dartmouth College found that when students with low grade-point averages roomed with higher-scoring students, their grades improved (2). Similarly, the lead author on the economic mobility paper said this on NPR's Marketplace (3):
"Take for example the quality of schools. If you’re living in an area with several affluent people as well as lower-income people, it’s conceivable that the quality of schools might remain quite high, whereas if the lower-income people are completely segregated, it’s plausible that the quality of the schools is just not as high in low-income areas because of a lack of funding and that might set people back."
When I read about this paper and then listened to Kai Ryssdal talk about it, I thought, "Great! This is just another reason to support public school education!" At least, it's another reason to support education that integrates students of varying backgrounds. (In my opinion, costly private schools are for the birds.) And it's another reason to work on integration on many levels -- not only in regard to race, but in regard to gender, economy, culture, etc., etc.
1) The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures: Evidence from Spatial Variation Across the U.S.
2) Peer Effects with Random Assignment: Results for Dartmouth Roommates
3) When it comes to economic mobility, place matters
Thing I'm thankful for: naps