Rich parents do this to help kids thrive

Posted May 15

One thing seems to matter most when it comes to what affluent parents do that lower-income parents don't. (Deseret Photo)

One thing seems to matter most when it comes to what affluent parents do for their children that lower-income parents often can't.

"Wealthy parents are famously pouring more and more into their children, widening the gap in who has access to piano lessons and math tutors and French language camp. The biggest investment the rich can make in their kids, though — one with equally profound consequences for the poor — has less to do with 'enrichment' than real estate," writes The Washington Post's Emily Badger.

"They can buy their children pricey homes in nice neighborhoods with good school districts."

Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, said her research shows that parents can buy all sorts of things for their kids that might not make a difference. But "buying a neighborhood" — complete with better schools and other advantages — definitely does. Put simply, families that can afford to be choosy look hard at the school districts when deciding where to live, while that's not a factor for those who don't have kids.

Owens' research, which is published in the journal American Sociological Review, looks at income segregation from 1990 to 2010 in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. She said she only found income segregation among families with kids, which is about one-third of the population. In the majority of households with no kids, "income segregation changed little and is half as large as among households with children," according to her study abstract.

In a news release on the findings, she said that "increased neighborhood income segregation that her study uncovered is a troubling sign for low-income families. Studies have shown that integrated learning environments are beneficial for children of disadvantaged households, and do no harm to children whose families have higher incomes.

"The growing income gap and increased economic segregation may lead to inequalities in children's test scores, educational attainment, and well-being," Owens said. "Neighborhood and school poverty are big drivers of low-income kids' poor educational outcomes, so rising income segregation perpetuates inequality and may reduce poor kids' mobility."

The study abstract said that "rising income inequality provided high-income households more resources, and parents used these resources to purchase housing in particular neighborhoods, with residential decisions structured, in part, by school district boundaries. Overall, results indicate that children face greater and increasing stratification in neighborhood contexts than do all residents, and this has implications for growing inequalities in their future outcomes."

The difference in income levels among neighbors in households with and without children "means that a typical childless household lives among more diverse neighbors from across the economic spectrum than does the typical family with children," The Washington Post said.

According to the release, Owens "recommended that educational leaders should consider redrawing boundaries to reduce the number and fragmentation of school districts in major metropolitan areas. They also should consider designing inter-district choice plans and strengthening current plans within districts to address inequities. Changing school attendance policies could be 'more feasible than reducing income inequality, raising the minimum wage, instituting metropolitan governance, or creating affordable housing stock to address residential segregation,'" she wrote.

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