Geography of mobility and parenting behavior in low income families

William Schneider, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The geographic location of birth has implications for low-income children's upward economic mobility, as Chetty, Hendren, Kline, and Saez (2014) found in an examination of millions of income tax records from each county in the US. Additional work indicates that low income children in higher economic mobility counties have higher language scores and fewer behavioral problems (Donnelly et al., 2017). However, the processes by which the geography of opportunity influences parenting are less well-understood. Objective: This study examines whether living in higher intergenerational mobility counties is associated with less harsh parenting, material hardship, household violence and substance use, and low child supervision – parenting behaviors that increase the risk for child maltreatment – for low-income families. Data: Data come from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth cohort of low income families in 20 cities in the U.S (N ~, 2841; 76% lower (household income of $41,994 or less) and 24% higher-income) linked to county level data on intergenerational mobility from the Equality of Opportunity Project. Methods: We estimate OLS and Linear Probability regressions of the association between (1) exposure to county-level intergenerational mobility and (2) number of waves of exposure to county intergenerational mobility 1 standard deviation above the mean and maternal parenting behaviors. Results: A 1 standard deviation increase in county level intergenerational mobility is associated with decreases in harsh parenting, but not indicators of neglect. Longer exposure to high intergenerational mobility areas was associated with decreased maternal harsh parenting and risk for child maltreatment. Conclusions: For low-income children, higher intergenerational mobility is associated with decreased risk of harsh parenting, particularly at younger ages, as is longer exposure to high intergenerational mobility areas. That lower-income families are less likely to live in economically mobile geographies may exacerbate inequalities among income groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105142
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Child maltreatment
  • Inequality
  • Intergenerational mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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