Income differences | Friendships between the rich and the poor can help children of the poor jump a grade – data from tens of millions of people

In the study, friendships that cross class boundaries seemed to have a greater importance for the individual than, for example, the family structure or the ethnic structure of the residential community.

What factors affect a person’s income level?

At least the friends and the neighborhood, according to a recent study by top US universities In the journal Nature. The newspaper first reported on the research The New York Times.

In the United States, a lot of research has been done on the influence of the residential area on an individual’s opportunities. Income differences have grown significantly in the country in the 21st century.

It has already been noticed that certain residential areas seem to offer children from poor families better opportunities to jump class. However, it is not known why this is so.

It is about a phenomenon familiar to sociologists, i.e. social capital.

Now extensive research sheds light on the reason behind the phenomenon.

If a child from a poor family grows up in a residential area where different social classes are friends with each other, he will earn more on average as an adult. The analysis is based on the Facebook friend relationships of 72 million people.

If children from low-income families lived in an area where 70 percent of their friends were wealthy, as adults their incomes were, on average, 20 percent higher than those of the control group.

Lecturer in social sciences at the University of Eastern Finland Antti-Jussi Kouvo not surprised by the results.

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It is about the social capital familiar to sociologists. It refers to the importance of social networks and trust.

Kouvo mentions the sociologist by Mark Granovetterknown for his work on so-called weak ties.

“According to Granovetter, if there is a connection through another network member, not necessarily a very familiar person, to resources that the members of one’s own network cannot compete for, that is an advantage for the individual,” says Kouvo.

The fact that a child from a low-income family is in contact with people with higher incomes can open up new resources for him compared to others.

Remarkable the research has extensive use of social media material.

The 72 million people tracked correspond to 84 percent of the US population aged 25-44. In total, the material covers more than 21 billion Facebook friends. This is the most extensive material on this subject so far.

Researchers were able to harness significant amounts of information available through social media. Each person’s income level was estimated using Facebook profile information such as age, zip code, college, and phone model. Anonymous material was limited to active Facebook users.

The researchers used Facebook to find out the place of residence of people rated as low-income and the number of friends with high incomes. This provided information on how typical friendships between low-income and high-income earners are in different areas.

The data was compared to a previous study based on tax data. It found out what kind of opportunities different residential areas offer for children from poor families.

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A separate analysis found out the effect of childhood friends on a person’s income level.

Almost 20 million Facebook profiles were used for this, which contained information about the person’s parents and high school.

Based on the income level of the parents, the researchers estimated how much the children of rich and poor families interacted with each other in different areas.

The analysis was repeated with the data of teenage users obtained from the photo service Instagram.

Who knows, it seems to have a tangible monetary value, at least in the United States.

Everyone’s based on separate analyses, it was the relations between the rich and the poor in the residential area that affected the opportunities of poor children.

From an individual’s point of view, friendships that cross class boundaries seem to be of greater importance than family structure, the quality of the school, the availability of jobs or the ethnic structure of the residential community. Who knows, at least in the US it seems to have a clear monetary value.

The study proves the same message as the previous ones in a broader setting. It is useful if we don’t live only among people like ourselves. Researchers talk about the prevention of social differentiation, i.e. segregation.

“Although segregation provides a certain security when we are ‘among our own’, it can also, in a rather tragic way, close various doors to individual opportunities,” says Kouvo.

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Regional differentiation easily leads to income or educational level gaps between regions.

“Yes, this research result shows that something should be done in the United States.”

A housing policy that mixes social groups does not help if people who work hard mostly go to sleep at home.

in Finland it is known that no extensive research has been conducted into the socio-economic impact of friendships. Social capital has indeed been studied.

Finland would hardly have results as strong as in the United States, Kouvo reflects. Social differentiation is milder here.

In Finland, too, there has been concern about the separation of regions. In August, professor of urban geography Mari Vaattovaara announced in HS discussion about the development of differentiation in the capital region and its causes.

In many countries, efforts have been made to alleviate social segregation with a bridging policy, which tries to increase interactions between different social groups.

According to Kouvo, this includes the housing policy, where owner-occupied and rented apartments are placed side by side.

People must also have time and space to meet each other, Kouvo reminds. A housing policy that mixes social groups does not help if people who are bored at work go home mostly to sleep.

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