EXTRACT from an article by Marian Vidal-Fernandez
Understanding how to tackle social mobility is a major organisational, evidence-gathering, and data research challenge for government and researchers.
Governments have many programs that seek to improve disadvantage and ameliorate poverty. But how successful are they at enabling people, households and communities to leave behind their disadvantage and break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage?
Governments, researchers and NGOs are seeking to better understand what the most powerful interventions are. What will materially improve the future prospects for children born to parents of a certain income, wealth, location or social group?
To understand the net impact of the interventions is a major organisational, evidence-gathering, and data research challenge, especially given the task of measuring long-run impacts.
Considering social mobility through place
One of the leading academic experts in social mobility, Raj Chetty, re-evaluated jointly with his colleagues the effects of a housing experiment implemented in three large US cities in the 1990s, namely Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
The Moving to Opportunity experiment randomly allocated housing vouchers to a selected group of eligible individuals to move from high poverty neighbourhoods into low poverty neighbourhoods. The first evaluation (Katz et al, 2001) did not find any sizable positive difference between earnings of those who got the vouchers (the treatment group) and those who did not (the control group).
The earlier the intervention, the more value for money
A few years down the line, they found the experimental vouchers had indeed been successful, just not among eligible adults, but their children instead. Compared to the control group, children in families who moved to more prosperous areas ended up earning a 31% higher income on average, were 27% more likely to attend university and 30% less likely to become single parents than others in their age group.
Furthermore, the younger the child was when they moved out of a poor neighbourhood, the larger the income gain. In fact, moving after age 21 had virtually no impact on future adult earnings and also did not affect parental income.
Early childhood interventions are the key to social mobility
This findings suggests early life circumstances, rather than local labour market opportunities, are key to fostering intergenerational mobility. This is backed up by evidence-based research led by James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate economist, showing that early childhood interventions yield extremely high economic and social returns in terms of adult wages (through higher tax contributions), reduced crime, decreased welfare dependency and crime incidence, as well as improved health.
SOURCE: Vidal-Fernandez, Marian. “The Policy Challenge of Improving Social Mobility.” The Mandarin, 27 November 2017.
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