Sociology graduate, University of Wisconsin - Madison
One of the key insights of social science is that structural factors influence the life course of individuals. For instance, pervasive and predictable patterns exist regarding the socioeconomic class that one will be a part of. One’s race and or neighborhood come to largely determine their opportunities in life. Such predictability is captured by the term social reproduction, which refers to the idea that most people will end up with a socioeconomic status similar to their parents. In contrast, social mobility refers to the ability of individuals to have socioeconomic status different from that of their parents.
For social mobility to exist, however, one must come into contact on a regular basis with those of different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is where they key factor of geography comes into play. Today, our society is increasingly segregated along class lines. A recent piece in the Washington Post clearly illustrates this. Using census data, the authors averaged the percentile ranking of income and education level for each ZIP Code in America, giving each a score between 0 and 99. Those ZIP codes with 95 or higher were labeled “Super ZIPs,” a term first coined by American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray. To see the results on a map is a stunning visual representation of inequality in America.