Tag Archives: e pluribus unum

Good places for kids’ social mobility

Scholars Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hedren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez (from Harvard and Berkeley) have garnered richly deserved  attention for their interesting retrospective look at which places were the best in America for low-income kids to be born in 1980 and 1981 to assure the highest rates of youth mobility.  [Amazingly, to do this, they were able to examine tax returns of all Americans and connect the youth with where they had grown up.]

Map of historic youth mobility in US

[To explore the above map where blue areas are areas of highest mobility and red areas are areas of lowest mobility, visit the New York Times site.]

Their work rhymes with two pieces of research that we have done.

First, they find that the places that promoted the greatest level of mobility were  places high in social capital.  [For an image of social capital by state in the US c. 2000 see here.] This is less surprising, since other scholars have found that places with high social capital were among the places historically to invest in public high schools (e.g., Larry Katz and Claudia Goldin’s work on the birth of American public high school movement in the American heartland).  Moreover, recent research by our research team, highlighted in Robert Putnam’s “Crumbling American Dreams” shows the changes in levels of community solidarity and togetherness, exemplified by the changes in his home town of Port Clinton, OH.

Second, they find that places with greater percentages of minorities were also places that afforded less social mobility for young people.  This resonates with work of Ed Glaeser and Alberto Alesina on how it is harder to foster public investments in places of greater diversity (in the US and Europe) and work that we did in “E Pluribus Unum” that also discusses the short-term challenges of increased diversity.

While their work is retrospective, we are actively involved in gathering data on social mobility for youth from the bottom third of American households (in income and education) that strongly suggests that whether levels of mobility that existed for lower-third youth in the past, future rates of mobility are likely to much lower.  Stay tuned for our evidence of this coming crisis and what we might do about it.

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Home Alone II: NYT story on Robert Putnam’s diversity and social capital research

I’ve previously written one entry on our research on diversity and social capital research here.  This is a postscript of some interesting coda.

First, there is another interesting story on this research by Erin Hoover Barnett in Oregonian called “More Diversity, Less Trust” (6/18/07).

Second, there are two interesting posts about cognitive overload.  First, this Dartmouth study from 2003 that explains how cognitive overload (mental stress) can be a factor in coping in more diverse environments as people try to censor bias.

And Charles Kadushin, Visiting Research Professor Sociology at Brandeis University, writes in private communication:

Georg Simmel, a Jewish cosmopolite in Berlin in the 1920’s, wrote “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” He asserted that “in a metropolis we are so assaulted by diverse stimuli that we protect ourselves by building an insulating cocoon…. Simmel’s social circle idea in Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (1922) is also germane. “In a metropolitan area we have a “do-it-yourself” construction of our social circles such that we may be the only intersection point for a circle of mountain climbers, Opera lovers, and Gay Orthodox Jews. Simple large categories of ethnicity don’t capture this. This is why people live in metropolitan areas and once you show them gay Paris you can’t get them back on the farm. As you probably know, I have written about this. The net result of this complex intersection of social circles is that universalism or rampant joining or perhaps even bowling in leagues is sharply inhibited because we can find a finely tuned circle just like the one we want and ignore the others. This is also a corollary of the small world hypothesis. Duncan Watt’s “cave” model of short circuiting which make the small world work which many now think is an unreasonable assumption, is actually a good one because of the Simmel phenomenon. The “caves” of relative dense interaction are social circles, but the metropolitan phenomenon means that a single member of the circle can serve as a bridge to one in which the members are quite unlike the those in the first circle.”

While Putnam’s E Pluribus Unum has already controlled for metropolitanism (by which we mean urbanism, like population density, your commuting time, census tract average community time, etc.), and we find an effect of diversity independent of an effect of urbanism. But Simmel’s argument about overload and assault of the senses may still be the mechanism that we are uncovering that link diversity with lower levels of social capital. So the research finds a similar effect of diversity in Yakima, WA (a small city c. 71k outside any major metro areas) as in L.A or Houston.