NEW STUDY (January 2016): Differences in childhood environment affect gender gaps in adulthood


How can we improve economic opportunities for low-income children? The Equality of Opportunity Project uses “big data” to develop new answers to this question. The previous phase of the project presented statistics on how upward mobility varies across areas of the U.S. and over time. In the current phase, we focus on families who moved across areas to study how neighborhoods affect upward mobility. We find that every year of exposure to a better environment improves a child’s chances of success, both in a national quasi-experimental study of five million families and in a re-analysis of the Moving to Opportunity Experiment. We use the new methodology and data to present estimates of the causal effect of each county in America on upward mobility.



The Causal Effects of Growing up in Different Counties on Earnings in Adulthood

Percentage Gains/Losses Relative to National Average


The estimates in the map above and table below show the percentage earnings gain from growing up in each county relative to an average place for children in low-income families. Lighter colored areas are places that produce higher earnings levels. Click here for estimates for all counties in the U.S.



Top 10 and Bottom 10 Among the 100 Largest Counties

Percentage Gains/Losses Relative to National Average



Earnings Gain


Earnings Loss

  1 DuPage, IL +15.2% divider 91 Pima, AZ -12.2%  
  2 Snohomish, WA +14.4% 92 Bronx, NY -12.4%  
  3 Bergen, NJ +14.2% 93 Milwaukee, WI -12.4%  
  4 Bucks, PA +13.2% 94 Wayne, MI -12.6%  
  5 Contra Costa, CA +12.2% 95 Fresno, CA -13.0%  
  6 Fairfax, VA +12.0% 96 Cook, IL -13.4%  
  7 King, WA +11.4% 97 Orange, FL -13.4%  
  8 Norfolk, MA +10.8% 98 Hillsborough, FL -13.4%  
  9 Montgomery, MD +10.4% 99 Mecklenburg, NC -13.8%  
  10 Middlesex, NJ +8.6% 100 Baltimore City, MD -17.2%  




This figure plots the percentage gain from moving to a better area by the age at which the child moves. For example, children who move at age 9 have outcomes that are about 50% between the outcomes of children who grow up permanently in the origin and destination areas.



This figure shows the average earnings of three groups of children whose families enrolled in the MTO Experiment before they turned 13: those who grew up in public housing projects (Control), those who received standard Section 8 housing vouchers, and those who received vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods (experimental).