The Conversation

Upward Mobility in Red vs. Blue Regions

Last week I noted a report on a new study which found that upward mobility was more common in areas with "more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups."

Tuesday David Leonhardt at the NY Times wrote a follow up pointing out that, contrary to what some have suggested, there is little evidence of a significant red state vs. blue state difference in upward mobility. In fact, red state metro regions tend to perform slightly better but the difference is slight:

Depending on the precise cut of the statistics you examine, blue America or red America may look slightly better. But the two are effectively tied. My colleague Amanda Cox and I, for instance, looked at all the metropolitan regions — or “commuting zones” — that voted for President Obama in 2012 and compared them with those that went for Mitt Romney. In Obama areas, the chance that a child born into a household in the bottom fifth of the income distribution had risen into the top fifth was 8.1 percent. In Romney areas, it was only marginally higher, 8.5 percent.

When we expanded the analysis to look at children born into the bottom fifth who had made it into one of the top two fifths, the chances were 21.1 percent for Obama areas and 22.1 percent for Romney areas.

Leonhardt pronounces this a tie which it nearly is. In his earlier piece he suggested the difference might come down to population density. Paul Krugman used the same study to argue this. He created a chart which shows population density vs. mobility. However, even Krugman's graph shows a great deal of variation among different metro regions. Houston does nearly as well as LA, despite having 1/3 the weighted population density.Chicago does slightly worse in terms of mobility than Dallas despite having double the density. Some other factor is involved.

As I noted last week, it seems telling that "children who moved at a young age from a low-mobility area to a high-mobility area did almost as well as those who spent their entire childhoods in a higher-mobility area" however "children who moved as teenagers did less well." This suggests that availability of public transportation and sprawl may have less to do with outcomes than the quality of public education.


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