Driven by school district options, families with children are leading the trend to less diverse, more segregated neighborhoods in the United States.

A new study published in the American Sociological Review  finds that among families with children, neighborhood income segregation is driven by increased income inequality in combination with a previously overlooked factor: school district options.

Study author Ann Owens, an assistant professor of sociology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, examined census data from 100 major U.S. metropolitan areas, from Los Angeles to Boston.

She found that:

  • Income segregation between neighborhoods rose 20 percent from 1990 to 2010
  • Income segregation between neighborhoods is twice as high among households that have children compared to those without.

For families with high income, school districts are a top consideration when deciding where they will live. For those in large cities, they have multiple school districts where they can choose to buy homes.

Schools are not a priority for selecting a home for childless families. This likely explains the reason that they did not see a rise in the income gap or in neighborhood segregation.

On  Newswise, Owens said “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.”

Studies have shown that integrated learning environments are beneficial for children of disadvantaged households, and do no harm to children whose families have higher incomes.

She said the increased neighborhood income segregation that her study uncovered is a troubling sign for low-income families. Studies have shown that integrated learning environments are beneficial for children of disadvantaged households, and do no harm to children whose families have higher incomes.

“The growing income gap and increased economic segregation may lead to inequalities in children’s test scores, educational attainment, and well-being,” Owens 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.”

Since the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect in 2002, more data than ever have been made available on schools, the quality of their teachers, and their student achievement. It has given rise to a sense of competition and rankings. Owens said this increased focus on performance, plus having access to more information about schools, may have made school an even greater priority for parents.

“School policy can also be housing policy.” – study author Ann Owens

“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.

Changing school attendance policies could be “more feasible than reducing income inequality, raising the minimum wage, instituting metropolitan governance, or creating affordable housing stock to address residential segregation,” Owens wrote.

Source Newsroom: American Sociological Association (ASA)