The Relational Basis of Neighborhood Selection: How Social Ties Shape Residential Migration and Mobility Outcomes for Low-Income Families

Asad L. Asad, Harvard University

Why, when given the opportunity to move from high- to low-poverty neighborhoods, do some low-income families return to disadvantaged contexts? Drawing on longitudinal interview and geographic data with 75 low-income mothers who survived Hurricane Katrina, I conceptualize social networks as a component of social structure that shapes low-income families’ residential migration and mobility outcomes. While factors beyond individuals’ control may prompt their “reactive” migration, the importance of social ties is magnified in situations of unplanned moves. Specifically, network peers provide information or help that minimizes the cost and increases the expected benefit of residential migration after initial displacement. In the absence of social ties, individuals may feel pressured to return to the origin neighborhood to be closer to their network peers. This analysis urges scholars and policymakers to reconsider how social networks shape residential migration and mobility, as well as what it means to live in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

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Presented in Session 54: Residential Mobility and Dynamics of Segregation