The power of friendships between poor children and rich children
For a poor child, having rich friends is one of the main determinants of economic mobility later in life.
Why is this important: This data point, from a study published in the journal Nature today underlines the real power of friendship.
- We know how to accumulate friends at different stages of our lives can reduce stress, lengthen life, improve our performance at work and even make us better parents.
- We know friendships with our neighbors can mean the difference between life and death in tragedies and natural disasters.
- And now we know cross-class friendships are engines of wealth and success for less fortunate children.
The big picture: The authors of the study conducted an unprecedented analysis of 72 million Facebook friendships between American adults.
- What they found: If poor children grew up in neighborhoods where 70% of their friends were wealthy, their future earnings would be 20% higher than those of their counterparts who grew up without these class ties.
- It was a stronger indicator future income as well as factors such as family structure and school quality, as well as the racial makeup and availability of jobs in the child’s community.
Reality check: It is not that simple. Friendships between classes are increasingly difficult to find in our divided country.
- For example, for people in the bottom 10% of the income distribution, only 2.5% of their friends are in the top 10%, says Johannes Stroebel, an NYU economist and one of the authors of the study, at Axios.
- Some cities are doing better than others. In Salt Lake City and Minneapolis, nearly half of the friends of people in the bottom half of the income distribution are in the top half. But in Indianapolis, only about 30% of the friends of the poorest people are wealthy.
- And there are certain spaces where cross-class links are built more frequently, Stroebel says. Churches, temples and other religious spaces belong to this category.
What to watch: There are big policies — like implementing school transportation, diversifying college admissions by class, and increasing the availability of affordable housing — that can increase the prevalence of cross-class friendships.
But we can all make a greater effort to diversify our circles of friends.
- Reach to people at your place of worship, dog park or grocery store.
- Meet people through volunteer work in your community.
- Bring your children to free activities at local parks and libraries that are accessible to families from all walks of life and where kids can befriend kids from all walks of life.