Past and Present Differences in Opportunity by Neighborhood

Working Paper*, Mar 15, 2019

Recent research finds that childhood neighborhoods affect adult economic outcomes, especially for children of low-income parents. However, understanding why one neighborhood results in better outcomes for low-income children than another is extremely challenging using estimates from only one point in time. Because places are shaped by both contemporary and historical factors, it is important to understand geographic differences in opportunity both today and in the past. Using 1940 Census data linked to 1040 tax returns, we examine geographic differences in child outcomes experienced by cohorts born roughly 50 years apart – revealing how intergenerational persistence of status has changed over time both at the national level and at smaller geographic levels. In studying these changes, we hope to shed light on the causes of intergenerational mobility and inequality of opportunity.

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Catherine Massey

Catherine Massey received her PhD in economics from the University of Colorado and is currently an Assistant Research Scientist at the Population Studies Center (PSC) at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Prior to joining PSC, she served for three years as the Research Director of the Longitudinal Infrastructure Project (CLIP) in the Census Bureau’s Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications. In this role, she researched record linkage techniques and historical demography, producing and utilizing linkages between the 1940 Census and contemporary census and administrative data. Her research interests lie in the intersection of intergenerational and geographic mobility.


Jonathan Rothbaum

Jonathan Rothbaum is the chief of the Income Statistics Branch in the Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. The Income Statistics Branch is primarily responsible for collecting, processing, analyzing and publishing income data collected in the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement and in the American Community Survey. His research has focused on nonresponse and data quality in income surveys and on using surveys to study intergenerational mobility in the U.S. Prior to joining the Census Bureau in 2013, Rothbaum received his doctorate in economics from George Washington University.


Liana Fox

Liana Fox leads the U.S. Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure research area. She has published a number of papers developing and analyzing historical extensions to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure research. Prior to joining the Census Bureau, Fox completed her post-doctoral work at the Swedish Institute for Social Research and worked at the Columbia Population Research Center and the Economic Policy Institute. Fox earned her doctoral degree in Social Welfare from Columbia University, master’s degree in Labor Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and her bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University.

*This working paper was made possible by the US 2050 project, supported by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


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