How Our Childhood County Affects Our Future Incomes

rory and laneDo you think that the town or city in which you grew up had any influence on your earning potential as an adult? What about the county in which you lived as a child?

If you had asked me to predict, I would have suggested that growing up in Canton, Mo. probably limited my earning potential slightly; after all, I grew up in a town with 2,500 people, in a school with 500 students K-12 and not a lot of extra resources. (See everything I’ve written about why I didn’t study STEM. You need tools for that, and we didn’t have them.)

But, as my mom let me know this weekend, I was wrong. According to new data put out by the NYT’s The Upshot, kids who grow up in Lewis County in families with average incomes end up making 8 percent more than their peers, nationwide.

My hometown of Canton was a 30-minute drive away from the bustling metropolis of Quincy, Ill. The 40,000 people in Quincy seemed to have all the opportunities I did not: their schools were bigger and had better facilities, they had numerous arts opportunities that were unavailable in Canton, including a youth orchestra, a youth chorus, and a community theater (all of which I participated in), and they had a mall, a movie theater, a Walmart, and a Taco Bell.

I would have predicted the Quincy kids to have better income prospects than us Canton kids, but The Upshot reveals that average-income-family kids who grew up in Adams County only earn 4 percent more than their nationwide peers.

I bet we’re all going to spend a little time inputting counties into The Upshot’s interactive interface, and figuring out how we compare to our neighbors and to the national average. The Upshot lets us sort for children raised in poor, average, rich, and 1 percent families (yes, those are the designations they use), and also subdivides by gender (in both Lewis and Adams Counties, girls do significantly better than boys, income-wise, as adults).

It also helpfully provides the median rent for each county, in case you wanted to find affordable living situations (if you live in Lewis County, you’ll only have to pay $304/month; in Adams County, $419).

There are a few pieces of information that seem to be missing from this interface, though. What does it mean when The Upshot writes “If a child in an average-income family were to grow up in Lewis County, Mo., instead of an average place, he or she would make $2,520, or 8 percent, more at age 26”? What is an average place? Is this an extra $2,520 a year? And 8 percent more than what? Later, The Upshot clarifies this as “compared with children in average-income families nationwide,” which is still not particularly clear.

Still, it’s fun to put your childhood hometown county into the interface and see if it matches your predictions. Who would have thought that kids from a small Midwestern town would do so well as adults?

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