Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Rising Income Inequality Is Fueling School Segregation: Families with Resources Increasingly Buy Into Exclusive School Attendance Zones
It is shaping up as a bad month for school segregation--kind of. Secretary John King has been pushing for new integration policies. Sean Reardon and his colleagues released a new study finding that money alone cannot close the achievement gaps that segregation creates. And now, Ann Owens has delved into the sociological aspects of segregation and found that economic inequality itself is a source of school segregation, at least, among families with children. In Inequality in Children’s Contexts: Income Segregation of Households with and without Children, she finds that wealthier families without children are not so much of a problem for school segregation. But wealthier families with children make housing choices based on schools that intensify school segregation. In the current environment, they are predisposed to, in effect, buy their way into particular public schools. In other words, for them, the public school system is not so different from the private school system. The difference is that instead of paying tuition to the realtor, you pay it through your realtor.
On one level, this makes perfect sense, and families buying homes in "good" neighborhoods so that their children will attend "good" schools is not new. Owens' study, however, points out that the ability and incentives to exercise this type of choice have increased over time, and the results have become more glaring. With increasing income inequality, there are more clearly schools that some families do not want to send their kids to. At the same time, those same families have the purchasing power to go elsewhere, and they know where to go. Her abstract explains:
Past research shows that income segregation between neighborhoods increased over the past several decades. In this article, I reexamine income segregation from 1990 to 2010 in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, and I find that income segregation increased only among families with children. Among childless households—two-thirds of the population—income segregation changed little and is half as large as among households with children. I examine two factors that may account for these differences by household composition. First, I find that increasing income inequality, identified by past research as a driver of income segregation, was a much more powerful predictor of income segregation among families with children, among whom income inequality has risen more. Second, I find that local school options, delineated by school district boundaries, contribute to higher segregation among households with children compared to households without. Rising income inequality provided high-income households more resources, and parents used these resources to purchase housing in particular neighborhoods, with residential decisions structured, in part, by school district boundaries. Overall, results indicate that children face greater and increasing stratification in neighborhood contexts than do all residents, and this has implications for growing inequalities in their future outcomes.
The text of the article offers these findings:
- The increase in residential income segregation occurred entirely among families with children, for whom income segregation rose by about 20 percent. Among childless households—two-thirds of the population—income segregation did not change, on average. By 2010, income segregation between neighborhoods among families with children was twice as high as segregation among childless households. My findings reveal that the current narrative of an increasingly unequal metropolis in terms of income segregation is true only for families with children.
- My findings show that the relationship between income inequality and income segregation is twice as large among households with children, for whom income inequality rose more. Income inequality changed little among childless households during this time period, and households without children may have different residential concerns and spending priorities, so that income inequality is a less powerful predictor of income segregation. Among families with children, high-income parents may have become increasingly concerned about their children’s well-being, or they may have prioritized expenditures on residence in neighborhoods seen as advantageous for their children, and rising income inequality provided the resources with which to achieve these residential goals.
- [S]egregation is highest and has risen steadily between neighborhoods among affluent families with children. Growing income inequality and concerns about educational advantages for children may contribute to high segregation of affluent families. As the cultural norms around parenting and investments in children have intensified, spending on investments in children has risen among families at the top of the income distribution (Kornrich and Furstenberg 2013). My results indicate that real estate is another area where the class gap in investments in children has grown— income segregation between high- and low-income families with children has increased.
In her conclusions, she points out that school choice policies have done almost nothing "to overcome the role of neighborhood racial and income segregation in creating segregated schools [because] nearly all school choice plans operate within school districts." As a result, "they do not address the increasing economic homogeneity of school districts documented here." Her solution is to "consider new ideas in breaking the link between neighborhood residence and school attendance to thwart the increasing pace of segregation between neighborhoods, schools, and school districts among families with children." More particularly, policy makers should "redraw district boundaries to reduce the number and fragmentation of districts within [metropolitan areas]." She also points out that breaking the link between housing and schools may also have a positive effect on housing, as it could "reduce the capitalization of school quality into home prices, facilitating neighborhood income integration."