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Does urban sprawl hold down upward mobility?

April 1, 2016

Contrary to the general perception, the United States has a much more class-bound society than other wealthy countries. The chance of upward mobility for Americans is just half that of the citizens of the Denmark and many other European countries. In addition to other influences, the built environment may contribute to the low rate of upward mobility in the U.S. This study tests the relationship between urban sprawl and upward mobility for commuting zones in the U.S. We examine potential pathways through which sprawl may have an effect on mobility. We use structural equation modeling to account for both direct and indirect effects of sprawl on upward mobility. We find that upward mobility is significantly higher in compact areas than sprawling areas. The direct effect, which we attribute to better job accessibility in more compact commuting zones, is stronger than the indirect effects. Of the indirect effects, only one, through the mediating variable income segregation, is significant.