Families with children are more likely to live in neighborhoods segregated by income, according to a new study out of the University of Southern California.
The study, titled “Inequality in Children’s Contexts: Income Segregation of Households with and without Children,” was published on the American Sociological Review website on April 27.
USC sociologist Ann Owens reviewed census data from 100 major U.S. cities and found that since 1990, income segregation between neighborhoods has risen 20 percent, and the instances of income segregation were nearly double in households with children.
Owens told The Huffington Post the results were enlightening.
“I didn’t expect that neighborhood segregation really hasn’t changed at all among childless households, I didn’t expect that at all,” Owens said. “Neighborhood segregation is increasing solely because of families with kids.”
Owens believes it’s because parents with children tend to confine themselves to areas with the best education systems. And families with higher incomes can be more discriminating in choosing which neighborhood to live in.
“Parents are trying to give their kids the best advantage possible,” Owens said.
Residential segregation directly impacts local school systems, so the findings leave questions for children living in low-income neighborhoods, often majority African-American.
“The growing income gap and increased economic segregation may lead to inequalities in children’s test scores, educational attainment, and well-being,” Owens said in a statement released by USC. “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.”
In the U.S., Black students are six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools than low-poverty schools and six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools than whites, according to the Urban Institute.
“In some metropolitan areas, the racial concentration of school poverty is so severe that black and white students effectively attend two different school systems: one for middle- and upper-middle-income white students, and the other for poor students and students of color,” one Institute article said.
In turn, research has shown that schools with high Black populations receive less funding and resources — licensed teachers with bachelor’s degrees or higher, minimal student-to-teacher ratios, advanced placement courses and extracurricular activities — all of which lead to a poorer education.
The Institute recommended changes to both school and housing policies.
“Housing programs can alleviate the concentration of race and poverty in schools. Promising initiatives include mobility programs with information for parents on neighborhood and school quality, rigorous enforcement of fair housing policies, and help locating affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods with access to better schools.”
How difficult is it for lower income families to find affordable housing in good school districts? Very, according to a 2015 study by RealtyTrac.
The housing data provider analyzed over 1,800 ZIP codes with at least one good school (having 2014 test scores at least a third higher than the state average) and found that just 35 percent of the areas had homes affordable to the average wage earner. An affordable home was defined as one that homeowners could spend less than one-third of their income to buy.
Los Angeles, New York and Chicago were cities with the country’s most unaffordable ZIP codes.
USC researcher Owens agreed that policymakers should work toward ending the disparities between low-income and high-income schools.
“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,” Owens said.
Owens suggested redrawing districts to decrease the high number of school districts in major metropolitan areas as well as implementing and increasing inter-district options for parents in low-income areas.
“School policy can also be housing policy,” she wrote in the study.
The USC researcher said she is working on a related study of racial segregation among households with and without children.