Aug 10, 2022 - News

Economic class-crossing friendships are unusually common in Utah

Animated illustration of two halves of a sad face pendant on necklace chains gravitating towards each other and turning into a united smiley face
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Lower-income Utahns have more higher-income friends than do residents of almost any other state, according to a study published last week in the journal Nature.

Why it matters: Children from low-income families who have wealthier friends are more likely to have economic mobility as adults, the study found.

  • Friendships across class lines were a stronger predictor of future incomes than family structure, school quality, racial demographics and employment rates, researchers reported.

Details: The study analyzed friendships of 70 million Facebook users. Researchers found that if low-income children grew up in neighborhoods where 70% of their friends were rich, their future incomes would be 20% higher than their counterparts who grew up without these bonds across class lines.

  • Friendships between the highest and lowest income brackets were extremely rare, though.
  • Among people in the bottom 10% of the income distribution, only 2.5% of their friends are in the top 10%, Johannes Stroebel, an economist at NYU and one of the study authors, told Axios.

By the numbers: Among Utahns in the bottom half of the income distribution, 51.5% of their friends were in the upper half, the study reported.

  • Only New Hampshire and Hawaii had higher rates of friendships between lower- and higher-income residents.
  • Lower-income residents in Alabama, New Mexico and South Carolina had the lowest percentage of friendships with wealthier residents, at 30.1%, 30.6% and 31.2%.

Zoom in: Lower-income residents in Morgan County had the state's highest rate of friendships with wealthier residents, at 65% — the fourth-highest of any county in the nation.

  • Utah County had the state's 2nd-highest rate and 16th-highest rate in the nation, at 61%.

Yes, but: In some cases, lower-income residents may have had high rates of friendship with wealthier neighbors simply because the wealthy far outnumber them.

  • In Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood, nearly 70% of low-income residents' friends are in the top half of incomes.
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