Aspire higher

3 November 2016

Do you believe a comfortable house in the suburbs will be to your children’s advantage, with enough space to play and enjoy the outdoors?

Mega-City One is the land of opportunity.

Mega-City One is the land of opportunity.

Not necessarily so, says a new study by the Brookings Institution in the USA. According to Ars Technica it was found that growing up in a high-density city (versus a sprawling metropolis) offers more economic opportunities.

When comparing upward mobility in the US to that of Denmark, the researchers found that Americans’ chance of upward mobility is about half than that of their Europeans counterparts. However, growing up in the more dense San José or Salt Lake City in the US rather than, say, spread out Atlanta or Milwaukee, increases the likelihood of a child born into the bottom fifth of the national income distribution to reach the top fifth three-fold (from 4.4% to 12.9%, approximately).

 Atlanta's vast sprawl may hinder upward mobility.

Atlanta’s vast sprawl may hinder upward mobility.

How did the researchers come to this conclusion? By comparing the amount of sprawl in 990 US counties or county-equivalents with levels of upward mobility. Their finding: high-density urban areas were correlated with dramatically higher levels of upward mobility. In fact, as the compactness of a region doubles, “the likelihood that a child born into the bottom fifth of the national income distribution will reach the top fifth by age 30 increases by about 41 percent”.

The reason behind this can be manifold, including the ‘Spatial Mismatch Hypothesis’ of the 1960s: people who need jobs live much too far away from job centres to work there. This geographical distance also leads to an information ‘mismatch’ since, because of being far away, they are not ‘connected’ enough to know of opportunities.

However, not everything in high-density city is positive. Race and class segregation still persists, with the poor and the rich in separate neighbourhoods – albeit closer in distance. The ensuing cycles of poverty is often difficult to stop. “But even accounting for class segregation,” the report states, “[high density cities] do offer more chances for upward mobility than sprawling areas do.”

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