I am looking forward to a September getaway with my long time Montana girlfriends. We have known each other for over 50 years. Six of us were in the same dorm our freshman year of college, Hannon Hall at Montana State University, which really cemented our friendship! Five of us ended up as nurses.
I read an article in the New York Times recently about ‘friending bias’ that resonated with me. Social scientists have used tax records and other data to study which factors increase the chances that children who grow up in poverty will be able to escape it as adults. They found that having friendships with people who aren’t poor is linked to upward mobility. The new study was just published in Nature that supports this. It is a bit dense, but here is the gist:
“Growing up in a community connected across class lines improves kids’ outcome and gives them a better shot at rising out of poverty,”Raj Chetty, an economist at Harvard and one of the study’s four principal authors
I was fortunate to grow up in a town and go to schools that were largely ‘connected across class lines’. It certainly wasn’t perfect. While we weren’t poor, I came from a solidly working-class family (my dad worked at a refinery and my mom was a nurses’ aid) and I never really felt ‘lower class’.
My parents didn’t go to college, in fact my mom had to board with a family in Billings, MT in order to go to high school. College wasn’t a topic in my house and there was no expectation that I would do more than graduate from high school.
Fortunately, I hung out with friends over the years who were college bound. While I might have ended up at college regardless, my friends definitely helped steer me in that direction – helped along by loans, grants and work study jobs. Without my college degree and my professional career, I doubt I would have met my husband of almost 44 years or have many of the lifelong friendships that I enjoy.
Unfortunately, this is now also true, probably even in my hometown:
‘Rising economic inequality and a shortage of new housing in many communities have helped increase economic segregation. Even within communities, cross-class social interactions seem to have declined.’David Leonhardt, NYT, 8/1/22
I also realize that college isn’t for everyone, but it was for me, and I have my hometown friends to thank.