Tag Archives: housing/residential segregation

Growing Up Poor Has Effects on Your Children Even If You Escape Poverty

We have become more aware that Americans’ chances of upward economic mobility have for decades been a lot lower than Americans imagined, that being poor or rich can last generations. Efforts to explain that lock-in have pointed to several patterns, from the intergenerational inheritance of assets (or debt, as the case may be) to intergenerational continuity in child-rearing styles (say, how much parents read to their children). In such ways, the past is not really past.

Increasingly, researchers have also identified the places – the communities, neighborhoods, blocks – where people live as a factor in slowing economic mobility. In a post earlier this year, I noted a couple of 2008 studies showing that growing up in poor neighborhoods impaired children’s cognitive skills and reduced their chances to advance beyond their parents. In this post, I report on further research by NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey (here and here) suggesting that a bad environment can worsen the life chances not only of a child, but that of the child’s child, an unfortunate residential patrimony.

Consider the ways that the immediate environment shapes a child’s development. It does so physically. Air and soil pollution, noise, and traffic, for example, measurably affect children’s health, stress, and cognitive development. Local institutions and resources, such as the policing, quality of the schools, availability of health services, food options, parks, and so on matter, as well. And the social environment may matter most of all. Growing up in a community with gangs, dangerous streets, discouraging role models, confused social expectations, and few connections to outsiders commanding resources is a burden for any child. Just getting by day-to-day can be a struggle. (In a pair of studies, Sharkey found that a violent crime occurring near black children’s homes in the days before they took a standardized test reduced their scores on the test, presumably because of anxiety and distraction.)

In their research on historical effects, Sharkey and co-author Felix Elwert used a survey that has followed thousands of American families since 1968 (the PSID). The researchers know much about the adults in the survey, including where they lived when they were around 16, about the children they had and where those children lived around the age of six. The researchers also have the results from cognitive tests administered to those children in 2002.

Sharkey and Elwert found that living in a neighborhood where 20 percent or more of the residents are poor — many other things being held constant (including the parents’ education, health, and attitudes) — seems to lower the test scores of children. And so does having a parent who grew up in such a neighborhood. The effect on children of living in a poor neighborhood and having parents who had also are substantially greater than the effect of only the second generation living in a poor neighborhood. Moreover, the children of two generations of poor neighborhoods do much worse than those of two generations who managed to stay out of poor neighborhoods (over half a standard deviation worse). For technical reasons, these statistical results probably underestimate the real effect of neighborhood poverty on scores.

What appears to have happened is this: Survey respondents in the first generation who grew up in poor neighborhoods ran higher risks than other respondents, on average getting less education and worse jobs, if any, and bearing more physical, social, and psychological problems. Not surprisingly, they tended to end up in poor neighborhoods as adults. When this first generation became parents, they commonly passed on some of their personal disadvantages, such as weak reading skills, to their own children. And they also passed on their places, raising the second generation in poor neighborhoods, which further hampered their children. In this way, Sharkey and Elwert argue, neighborhood problems dragged down (at least) two generations.

No discussion of neighborhood effects can ignore the racial dimension, because the residential segregation of blacks has been and, though reduced, continues to be extreme: 41 percent of the African-American parent-child pairs in the study grew up in poor neighborhoods in both generations; only 2 percent of white families did. Poor whites were less likely to live in concentrated areas of poverty and are more likely to get out of them if they did. The weight of the past is much heavier for some than others.

Claude Fischer is a sociologist at UC Berkeley, is the author of Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character. This post originally appeared at Made in America and was re-posted on the Boston Review BR Blog.

A Proper Entrance: Creole Culture and the Front Door

2This photograph is of a Creole home right off the Mississippi river in Louisiana.  It served as the home of two families who ran a sugar cane plantation, starting in 1805. CIMG0260 I visited the home as a part of a tour of Laura Plantation and I found one architectural detail particularly interesting.  The tour guide described the two sets of double doors immediately behind the staircase as the “brise” (French for breeze, as the Creole would have spoken French). 20140428_143523 These doors were not for use by people.  They were only to let the breeze in.  They were essentially air ducts, said the tour guide and, to Creole folks, using those doors would have been as odd as entering the house through a window. Instead, according to Creole tradition, visitors were to enter through one of the doors on the far right or left of the house.  These delivered guests to the men’s and women’s quarters: one room with a bedroom, a dresser, and a desk.

All this, of course, was very bizarre to the new Americans of British descent who came to Louisiana to do business.  The front doors of their homes were in the middle of the house and they led to an entryway or reception area.  To them, it would have been very odd indeed to enter the house at one end and even more strange to enter someone’s bedroom.  Moreover, since Laura Plantation was run by women for many years, this meant doing business in a woman boudoir. How scandalous.

This is a great example of the social construction of space. Where is the proper place for a front door? What kind of activities take place in the same room? What rooms/furniture are appropriate for strangers to see? Non-Creoles had to learn how to do business in a new way — perhaps accidentally bungling their entry by knocking at the window — and, ultimately, Laura and the other female presidents of the plantation would have to negotiate their expectations, by separating the bed and office for example. Something as simple as a front door, then, turns out to be a really neat example of social construction and social change.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Average White American’s Social Network is 1% Black

American divisions over the state of our country’s race relations were brought to the forefront in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s shooting by a Ferguson, MO police officer named Darren Wilson. Black Americans are more than twice as likely as whites or Hispanics to say that the killing was part of a broader pattern (source).  And blacks are twice as likely as whites to say that race played an important role in Wilson’s decision to shoot (source).

At The Atlantic, Robert Jones argues that these disparate opinions may be caused, in part, by the different life experiences of the typical white and black American. He shows data, from the American Values Survey, indicating that black people are much more likely than whites to report living in communities rife with problems, from a lack of jobs and inadequate school funding to crime and racial tension.

In the meantime, whites may be genuinely naive about what it’s like to be black in America because many of them don’t know any black people.  According to the survey, the average white American’s social network is only 1% black.  Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.

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In contrast, the social network of the average black American is 65% black and, among Hispanic Americans, 46% Hispanic.

The average white person’s failure to engage meaningfully with people of color isn’t solely a matter of personal choice, though that is certainly part of it.  Nor is it simply a function of the country being majority white, non-Hispanic (but not for long).  White insularity is caused, too, by occupational and residential segregation which, in turn, is the result of both individual choices and institutionalized mechanisms that keep black people in poverty and prison.

If we want the people of America to embrace justice, we must make our institutions just.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

New Orleans after Katrina: An Uneven Recovery

To mourn, commemorate, and celebrate the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Photographer Ted Jackson returned to the site of some of his most powerful photographs, re-taking them to reveal the progress, or lack of progress, of the past nine years.

You can see them all at nola.com; I’ve pulled out three that speak to the uneven recovery that I see when I visit.

In this first photo, residents struggle to keep their heads above water by balancing on the porch railing of a home in the Lower 9th Ward, what was once a vibrant working class, almost entirely African American neighborhood. Today, the home remains dilapidated, as did one-in-four homes in New Orleans as of 2010.

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In the first photo of this second set, a man delivers fresh water to people stranded in the BW Cooper Housing Development, better known as the Calliope Projects.  Today, the housing development is awaiting demolition, having been mostly empty since 2005.  Some suspect that closing these buildings was an excuse to make it difficult or impossible for some poor, black residents to return.

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This set of homes is  located in an upper-income part of the city.  The neighborhood, called Lakeview, suffered some of the worst flooding, 8 to 10 feet and more; it has recovered very well.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday Stat: Racist Beliefs about Black People Still Common

Here’s solid data on how some white Americans see black Americans:

1H/t New York Times.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Advice for College Grads from Two Sociologists

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Happy Graduation, Seniors! Congratulations! What’s next?  Below is some sociologically-inspired, out-of-the-box advice on work, love, family, friendship, and the meaning of life.  For new grads from the two of us!

1. Don’t Worry About Making Your Dreams Come True

College graduates are often told: “follow your passion,” do “what you love,” what you were “meant to do,” or “make your dreams come true.”  Two-thirds think they’re going find a job that allows them to change the world, half within five years.  Yikes.

This sets young people up to fail. The truth is that the vast majority of us will not be employed in a job that is both our lifelong passion and a world-changer; that’s just not the way our global economy is. So it’s ok to set your sights just a tad below occupational ecstasy.  Just find a job that you like.  Use that job to help you have a full life with lots of good things and pleasure and helping others and stuff.  A great life is pretty good, even if it’s not perfect.

2. Make Friends

Americans put a lot of emphasis on finding Mr. or Ms. Right and getting married. We think this will bring us happiness.  In fact, however, both psychological well-being and health are more strongly related to friendship.  If you have good friends, you’ll be less likely to get the common cold, less likely to die from cancer, recover better from the loss of a spouse, and keep your mental acuity as you age.  You’ll also feel more capable of facing life’s challenges, be less likely to feed depressed or commit suicide, and be happier in old age.  Having happy friends increases your chance of being happy as much as an extra $145,500 a year does.  So, make friends!

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3. Don’t Worry  about Being Single

Single people, especially women, are stigmatized in our society: we’re all familiar with the image of a sad, lonely woman eating ice cream with her cats in her pajamas on Saturday night. But about 45% of U.S. adults aren’t married and around 1 in 7 lives alone.

This might be you.  Research shows that young people’s expectations about their marital status (e.g., the desire to be married by 30 and have kids by 32) have little or no relationship to what actually happens to people.  So, go with the flow.

And, if you’re single, you’re in good company.  Single people spend more time with friends, volunteer more, and are more involved in their communities than married people. Never-married and divorced women are happier, on average, than married women. So, don’t buy into the myth of the miserable singleton.

4. Don’t Take Your Ideas about Gender and Marriage Too Seriously

If you do get married, be both principled and flexible.  Relationship satisfaction, financial security, and happy kids are more strongly related to the ability to adapt in the face of life’s challenges than any particular way of organizing families.  The most functional families are ones that can bend.  So partnering with someone who thinks that one partner should support their families and the other should take responsibility for the house and children is a recipe for disaster.  So is being equally rigid about non-traditional divisions of labor.  It’s okay to have ideas about how to organize your family – and, for the love of god, please talk about both your ideals and fallback positions on this – but your best bet for happiness is to be flexible.

5. Think Hard About Whether to Buy a House

Our current image of the American Dream revolves around homeownership, and buying a home is often taken for granted as a stage on the path to full-fledge adulthood. But the ideal of universal home ownership was born in the 1950s.  It’s a rather new idea.

With such a short history, it’s funny that people often insist that buying a house is a fool-proof investment and the best way to secure retirement.  In fact, buying a house may not be the best choice for you. The mortgage may be less than rent, but there are also taxes, insurance, and the increasingly common Home Owners Association (HOA) fees. You may someday sell the house for more than you bought it but, if you paid interest on a mortgage, you also paid far more than the sale price.  You have freedom from a landlord, but may discover your HOA is just as controlling, or worse.  And then there’s the headache: renting relieves you from the stress of being responsible for repairs. It also offers a freedom of movement that you might cherish.

So, think carefully about whether buying or renting is a better fit for your finances, lifestyle, and future goals. This New York Times rent vs. buy calculator is a good start.

6. Think Even Harder about Having Kids

One father had this to say about children: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.” In fact, having children correlates with both an increased sense of purpose in life and a long-lasting decrease in individual and marital happiness.  Having kids means spending a lot of your short life and limited income on one source of joy. It’s not a bad decision. But it’s also not the only good decision you can make. We want to think we can “have it all” but, in fact, it’s a zero sum game. You have only so much time and money and there are lots of ways to find satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning in this life.  Consider all your options.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Gwen Sharp is a professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter.

Originally posted in 2013 and cross-posted at The Huffington Post and PolicyMic (with gifs!).

 

Why Has Godzilla Grown?

Last week the internet chuckled at the visual below.  It shows that, since Godzilla made his first movie appearance in 1954, he has tripled in size.

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Kris Holt, at PolicyMic, suggests that his enlargement is in response to growing skylines. She writes:

As time has passed, buildings have grown ever taller too. If Godzilla had stayed the same height throughout its entire existence, it would be much less imposing on a modern cityscape.

This seems plausible.  Buildings have gotten taller and so, to preserve the original feel, Godzilla would have to grow too.

But rising buildings can’t be the only explanation.  According to this graphic, the tallest building at the time of Gozilla’s debut was the Empire State Building, rising to 381 meters.   The tallest building in the world today is (still) the Burj Khalifa.  At 828 meters, it’s more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building, but it’s far from three times as tall, or 1,143 meters.

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Is there an alternate explanation? Here’s one hypothesis.

In 1971, the average American was exposed to about 500 advertisements per day. Today, because of the internet, they are exposed to over 5,000.  Every. Day.

Media critic Sut Jhally argues that the flood of advertising has forced marketers to shift strategies.  Specifically, he says

So overwhelming has the commercial takeover of culture become, that it has now become a problem for advertisers who now worry about clutter and noise.  That is, how do you make your ads stand out from the commercial impressions that people are exposed to.

One strategy has been to ratchet up shock value.  “You need to get eyeballs. You need to be loud,” said Kevin Kay, Spike’s programming chief.

So, to increase shock value, everything is being made more extreme. Compared to the early ’90s, before the internet was a fixture in most homes and businesses, advertising — and I’m guessing media in general — has gotten more extreme in lots of ways. Things are sexier, more violent, more gorgeous, more satirical, and weirder.

So, Godzilla because, eyeballs.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Is Massive Financial Risk the New Recipe for Success?

Do Millennials really carry more debt than their parents and grandparents did at their age? Yes, according to a new study by sociologist Jason Houle.  “In order to participate in society and gain economic independence,” he writes, “many young adults today must take a massive financial risk.”  Or, as he puts it, “out of the nest and into the red.”

The graph below compares the amount of debt held by three generations in young adulthood (adjusted for inflation and controlled for other variables). Notice that the median debt load has grown, but the average debt load has grown much faster. This means that, while debt has grown over all, averages are also pulled up by a small number of young people that have really high levels.

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Some evidence suggests that high debt individuals may be coming from lower income families. They take on debt as young people because the adults in their lives have already maxed out. They can’t count on their parents, for example, to take out a second mortgage on the house in order to pay for their college education. So, if they want to go to college, they have to take on the debt themselves.

Houle’s analysis, however, also shows that the kind of debt has changed across the three generations. The pie charts below reveal that the proportion of debt accounted for by home or car loans has shrunk, while the proportion accounted for by education loans and unsecured debt, like credit cards, has risen.

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Moreover, Houle argues that this profile of generation Y’s debt is class specific:

The more advantaged are able to take on debt that helps them pursue a middle class lifestyle and build their wealth, while the less advantaged must take on debt to pay their bills and keep their heads above water.

So, is massive financial risk the new recipe for success?

For some, the answer may be yes. But for many, the gamble does not pay off. Students that take out college loans, for example, are more likely to drop out of college than those who have a parent that can pay. The combination of school loans and minimum-wage jobs can add up to a lifetime of economic insecurity. But, without other resources, not risking at all almost guarantees failure in this economy.  For this reason, Houle argues, the availability of credit and acquisition of debt may be just another driver of income and wealth inequality.  It’s a disturbing story that you can read in more depth here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.