POLITICS
05/04/2016 06:22 pm ET

Families With Kids Are The Reason Neighborhood Segregation Is Getting Worse

Families with children and the schools they choose could be one of the factors driving inequality.

Neighborhoods have become increasingly segregated by income, and it's because of children.

Families with children have driven neighborhood segregation since the 1990s, according to a new study from University of Southern California professor Ann Owens. While families without children -- both high- and low-income -- continue to live in diverse areas, families with children have been sequestering themselves to the neighborhoods with the best local schools. 

As income inequality has gotten worse -- and especially affected families with children --  so too has this phenomenon. This is bad news for low-income families that have kids. When affluent families choose housing based on local school options, those without the ability to choose are left with the worst schools. 

Since 1990, "the increase in residential income segregation occurred entirely among families with children, for whom income segregation rose by about 20 percent," wrote Owens, an assistant professor in the department of sociology. For families with no children, residential income segregation remained fairly stagnant. "By 2010, income segregation between neighborhoods among families with children was twice as high as segregation among childless households," said the study.

The story of rising residential segregation, according to Owens, is a story "about families with children," and the schools that they choose.

Owens, who looked at census data from 100 major U.S. metropolitan areas, was surprised by the results. 

"I didn’t expect that neighborhood segregation really hasn’t changed at all among childless households, I didn’t expect that at all," Owens told The Huffington Post. "Neighborhood segregation is increasing solely because of families with kids."

Owens cites a few reasons why this might be happening. In addition to rising rates of income inequality in the country, she notes an increase in the "intensification of parenting," although Owens did not directly measure the impact of this factor. 

"Parents are trying to give their kids the best advantage possible," Owens said. "Parents are spending more money on their kids than they used to. The gap in spending is so high-income families increasingly outspend low-income families."

The study raises questions about how neighborhood income segregation is affecting school segregation. Indeed, schools have become more racially segregated over the past several decades. This can have a devastating impact on children. Schools with a higher concentration of students of color tend to have fewer material resources and less experienced teachers

Owens also fears that this increasing residential segregation will only perpetuate inequality.

"I think there's serious implications for future inequality and intergenerational mobility," said Owens. "We know both neighborhoods and schools are really important contexts for kids' development. If poor kids are growing up in contexts of concentrated poverty, we know that has a negative impact on their future outcomes."

So what can be done to fix the rising neighborhood separation between affluent families with children and everyone else? 

Possible remedies include policies that create more affordable housing in high-income and mixed-income areas, as well as interventions that "break the link between neighborhoods and schools and create more equal schooling opportunities for everyone," Owens said. 

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Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation and the achievement gap in K-12 education. In particular, she is drilling down into the programs and innovations that are trying to solve these problems. Tips? Email Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.

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