Even when considering other factors, like income inequalities and social capital, children from walkable neighborhoods have a higher level of upward economic mobility as adults.
The study, “The Socioecological Psychology of Upward Social Mobility,” by psychologists at Columbia University, the University of Virginia and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looks at the effect of growing up in a walkable community on the economic mobility of children.
Using the community's Walk Score and data from approximately 10 million Americans born between 1980 and 1982, researchers gauged the likelihood of children from households in the bottom fifth of the income distribution reaching the top fifth by 30 years old.
The research examines the effect of walkability across five factors: school quality, income inequality, race, social capital and the share of families with single parents, which have all been found to be associated with economic mobility.
Considering communities with better walkability are often connected to higher incomes, better health and longevity, more knowledge-based industries, more liberal social attitudes and less violent crime, the researchers controlled for these variables. In additional analyses considering these factors, walkability remained closely connected to upward economic mobility.
“The more walkable an area is (as indexed by Walkscore.com), the more likely Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quintile are to have reached the highest income quintile by their 30s," the study says. "This relationship holds above and beyond factors previously used to explain upward mobility, factors such as income inequality and social capital, and is robust to various political, economic, and demographic controls; to alternate specifications of upward mobility and to potentially unspecified third variables.”
Additionally, the findings showed higher economic mobility in communities that are denser and less segregated. To control for this, the study ran a series of additional models with variables for density, historic buildings and other factors associated with urban neighborhoods. In these models, walkability remained closely associated with upward mobility.
The reasons, according to the research, to why children in walkable communities grow up to achieve greater economic mobility are because they are less dependent on cars (saving them a major expense), are more likely to be closer to economic opportunities, are healthier (saving them in health expenses) are more connected to their communities and are more creative due to the thinking walking stimulates, which help in higher levels of well-being and employment in higher-paying jobs.
“By reducing the need for a car,” the authors write, “a more walkable city opens its employment possibilities up to a far wider range of prospective employees than in a less walkable city.”