How Our Cities Impact The Future Income Of Children by Jeff Desjardins, Visual Capitalist

Certain cities in America are better for upward mobility

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

In the long-standing psychology debate on nature versus nurture, the question is whether it is our genes or our experiences that hold the keys to our future.

The short answer to this question, according to many of today’s scientists and psychologists, is that nature and nurture are always working together. In other words, genes do what they do depending on their context, and nature and nurture work to influence each other constantly.

In other words, our family experiences, households, and neighborhoods can set the stage for how our genes react. And on a macro level, looking at cities can tell us a lot about how our environments can help to influence future outcomes.

A Tale of Two City Types

Today’s chart pulls out some of the most compelling data from a 2015 report on intergenerational mobility.

The report studies five million families that have moved between counties in the United States, ultimately showing that there is a “childhood exposure effect” in cities that helps to predict future income levels as adults. Put another way, some cities are better than others in helping kids move “up the ladder” by accessing opportunities that later affect income. On balance, other places provide a tougher environment that makes it harder.

In this case, it should be noted that our above chart specifically deals with the city “bonuses” or “penalties”, expressed as an annual dollar amount for every year exposed to a city’s environment, on the future earnings of children in low-income families (25th percentile).

Digging into City Data

On an individual level, a person can of course succeed or fail regardless of their family or neighborhood. This happens all the time, and there are countless examples of rags-to-riches stories.

The concern highlighted by this study is that, on the whole, there is a significant disparity between cities as far as predicting future income goes. Growing up for an entire childhood in New Orleans or Los Angeles, on average, means that future income will be lower than the national median. In Salt Lake City or Boston, it’s likely to be higher than the national median.

The “bonuses” and “penalties” add up. For example, spending an entire childhood in New Orleans is estimated to lower future income to -$3,150 below the national median.

Cities in the Northeast seem to have the most mixed bag of “place effects”. New York, Philadelphia, and Buffalo have negative effects, while Boston and Washington, D.C. are both positive.

Meanwhile, the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest all see a similar negative effect through major cities. Minneapolis and Pittsburgh are exceptions to this rule.

Finally, cities in the West appear to mostly have positive effects, with the exception of Los Angeles and Fresno (not on map).

How Our Cities Impact The Future Income Of Children

How Our Cities Impact The Future Income Of Children