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How Americans Can Break Down Class Barriers

The Surprising Places Where Wealthy Americans Mingle With Disadvantaged Ones

 

November 2023

Script

When it comes to economic mobility, it’s not what you know — it’s who you know.

Economists have found that the most important thing people can do to escape poverty ... is build relationships with people *not* living in poverty.i

Here’s the problem: That doesn’t happen very often.

The wealthy, in particular, tend to live in a bubble. About 40% of their social interactions happen exclusively with other high-income people.

That raises the question: Where’s the best place to meet someone from a different economic class?

It turns out, the answer is ... Olive Garden. Well, sort of.

Research shows that affordable chain restaurants are the sites of a lot of socioeconomic mixingii ... as are retail chains with a diverse customer base.iii

But when it comes to class mixing, not all chains are created equal.

Starbucks tends to be dominated by better-off patrons ... while Dollar General locations tend to silo lower-income people.iv

And while gas stations and convenience stores are prime locations for mixing ... almost no class-crossing occurs at CVS, the country’s biggest pharmacy chain. (Because there are so many locations, no one has to leave their neighborhood to go to CVS.)v

But critics worry that people don’t really interact in those kinds of establishments.

What about cross-class mixing in more public settings?

The record is mixed.

People tend to encounter members of other economic groups at libraries and parks ... but not at museums.

Schools and churches may seem like opportune spots for people to cross classes ... but, in practice, they often fall short on that frontvi ... because most people stick to schools and churches in their immediate neighborhood.

Bars, meanwhile, are prime spots for socializing across class lines.vii

So, the next time you want to get out of your bubble ... pull up a stool and raise a glass to economic mobility.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Economists have found that the most important thing people can do to escape poverty is build relationships across class lines. 
  2. Low-cost chain restaurants, libraries, and bars all contribute to socioeconomic mixing. 
  3. Seemingly egalitarian spaces like churches and schools can actually increase economic isolation if people tend to stay in their neighborhoods. 

Source(s)

  1. "Social Capital and Economic Mobility" (Raj Chetty, et al.) — Opportunity Insights
  2. "Rubbing Shoulders: Class Segregation in Daily Activities" (Maxim Massenkoff and Nathan Wilmers)  Social Science Research Network (SSRN), pg. 2 
  3. Ibid, pg. 31
  4. Ibid, pg. 15 
  5. Ibid, pg. 2
  6. Ibid, pg. 16
  7. Ibid, pg. 32

Shownotes

SOUND: "Someone Else" (Jaymie Gerard)  

FOOTAGE: Photosaint (Freepik) // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION. 

Sources

  1. Opportunity Insights
    "Social Capital and Economic Mobility" (Raj Chetty, et al.)
  2. Social Science Research Network (SSRN)
    "Rubbing Shoulders: Class Segregation in Daily Activities" (Maxim Massenkoff and Nathan Wilmers)

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