Geography of intergenerational mobility and child development

Louis Donnelly, Irwin Garfinkel, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Brandon G. Wagner, Sarah James, Sara McLanahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Recent research by Chetty and colleagues finds that children’s chances of upward mobility are affected by the communities in which they grow up [Chetty R, Hendren N (2016) Working paper 23002]. However, the developmental pathways through which communities of origin translate into future economic gain are not well understood. In this paper we examine the association between Chetty and Hendren’s county-level measure of intergenerational mobility and children’s cognitive and behavioral development. Focusing on children from low-income families, we find that growing up in a county with high upward mobility is associated with fewer externalizing behavioral problems by age 3 years and with substantial gains in cognitive test scores between ages 3 and 9 years. Growing up in a county with 1 SD better intergenerational mobility accounts for ∼20% of the gap in developmental outcomes between children from low- and high-income families. Collectively, our findings suggest that the developmental processes through which residential contexts promote upward mobility begin early in childhood and involve the enrichment of both cognitive and social-emotional development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9320-9325
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 29 2017


  • Child development
  • Inequality
  • Intergenerational mobility
  • Poverty


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