Owens's latest research, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that wealthy parents snapping up such homes have driven the rise of income segregation in America since 1990. The rich and non-rich are less and less likely to share the same neighborhoods in the United States, a trend shaped more by the behavior of the wealthy than the poor or middle class. Owens's work, though, adds another twist: The recent rise of income segregation, she finds, is almost entirely caused by what's happening among families with children.
Since 1990, income segregation hasn't actuallychanged much among households without kids. That's two-thirds of the population.
"Yes income segregation is rising," Owens says, "but this is really a story about kids."
Owens's research suggests that rising income inequality hasn't translated into the same residential sorting effect for households without children. That's perhaps because the childless rich — including so-called DINKs — are spending their greater wealth on other luxuries, such as expensive restaurants, travel and entertainment. Given that school quality is embedded in the high cost of housing in many communities (think Northwest Washington), it's also logical that households without children would decline to pay a premium for an amenity they don't plan to use.
It's also true that as income inequality is widening, the kind of information you'd need to wield your wealth to buy into the best neighborhood is proliferating, too. Most real estate sites such as Redfin list grades for local schools right on the bottom of each property listing. So it's never been easier to make sure you're buying not only the best home, but also the public schools with the best standardized test scores.