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Uptown Theater sign

The marquee at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago.

Colin Boyle

Uptown is one of the highest ranked areas for rich-poor friendships, a new study finds

From Uptown to Beverly, Chicagoans notoriously take great pride in their neighborhood, and a new study found that neighborhood friendships offer one of the strongest predictors for upward economic mobility.

The key finding was that low-income residents had a better chance of improving their economic status if they grew up in a neighborhood where it was easy to become friends with high-income people.

Researchers from Harvard University and the U.S. Census Bureau used Facebook data and anonymized tax records to examine the role cross-class friendships — or “economic connectedness” — have on future income.

Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is one of the highest ranked areas in the country in terms of cross-class friendships: About 63% of low-income friendships in the 60613 ZIP code are with high-income people, the study estimates. In West Englewood, that figure drops to 24%.

But what makes cross-class friendships possible in the first place?

The researchers looked into two determinants of economic connectedness: the share of high-income residents in a low-income neighborhood (or exposure), and the likelihood of friendships among these economic groups (or friending bias), which they measured with social media network data.

  • Economic connectedness: the share of high (above-median) income friends among people with low (below-median) incomes.

  • Exposure: the share of high (above-median) income people in low (below-median) income people’s communities.

  • Friending bias: The likelihood that low-income people form friendships with the high (above-median) income people they are exposed to.

For example, low-income residents in the 60625 ZIP code in Lincoln Square and the 60638 ZIP code in Clearing have a similar percentage of high-income friends. But the paths to make friends are very different. In Lincoln Square, low-income residents are more likely to meet high-income people, but they are a lot less likely to become friends. In Clearing, low-income residents meet fewer high-income people, but they are more likely to become friends.

Exposure and friending bias work in opposition: the higher the exposure, the more likely the cross-class friendships, but the higher the friend bias, the lower their chances.

Having rich friends as a child doesn’t guarantee you’ll be making more than your parents when you grow up, but according to this study, it sure helps.

Explore more economic mobility data on the Opportunity Insights website.

Charmaine Runes is WBEZ’s data/visuals reporter. Follow her @maerunes.

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