Researchers for the study, which was just published in the American Sociological Review, looked at census data from 100 major U.S. metropolitan areas across the country. According to study author Ann Owens, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, what they found is that, increasingly, families are buying homes in areas populated by people who are earning similar incomes. She attributes this phenomenon to the widening income gap, for one.
Science Daily reports that the study found segregation between neighborhoods rose 20 percent between 1990 and 2010, while income segregation between neighborhoods was almost two times as high among households with kids versus childless families.
School district choices are another main reason for the segregation, researchers noted. Because as one might expect, higher-income families with children are looking for good school districts when they home search. If you do not have kids, the quality of a school is not a huge factor in your home-buying decision-making process—unless, of course, you are thinking about resale potential.
Owens breaks down the findings this way: "Income inequality has an effect only half as large among childless folks. This implies that parents who have children see extra money as a chance to buy a home in a good neighborhood so that their kids may attend a good school."
She adds this is not good news for lower-income families with kids. "The growing income gap and increased economic segregation may lead to inequalities in children's test scores, educational attainment, and well-being," she 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."
Owens is convinced schools can act as key influencers in driving what she sees as necessary change. "If schools play an important role in residential segregation, then breaking that link and making it less important and sort of alleviating parents' concerns about where their kids are going to attend school would reduce income segregation," she said.
Her recommendation is for schools to redraw boundaries to reduce fragmentation of school districts in big cities and their surrounding areas. Inter-district school choice plans could also lessen segregation.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.