Raj Chetty’s credentials make him sound like the perfect, stereotypical liberal. His mother was a professor of pediatric medicine, and his father had a doctorate in economics in one of the most socialist parts of India.
When Raj was 9 his parents moved the family to America. Raj was valedictorian of his high school class, graduated from Harvard in three years, and earned his doctor of economics there as well. His first teaching job was at the University of California at Berkeley. Then he returned to Harvard where in 2007 at age 28 he became one of the youngest faculty members in Harvard’s history to receive tenure.
In 2015 he went to teach at Stanford, then three years later he returned to Harvard to launch his own research and policy institute with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. At age 40 he is considered one of the most influential social scientists of his generation. And as icing on the stereotype, his work was highlighted in The Atlantic magazine. A man with these credentials would not be expected to publish research data that supports conservative ideals.
Every generation of children in America has earned more than their parents’ generation — until this generation. Chetty established his research institute, called Opportunity Insights, to find out why opportunity is trending downward.
Chetty has shown that to a surprising degree a person’s financial prospects depend on where s/he grows up. For example, a person born to a family in the bottom fifth of household income in Salt Lake City had a 10.8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth. Yet in Milwaukee or Charlotte the odds are less than half that. However, when the data is examined in more detail the picture is not so cut and dried. Chetty’s research — which uses massive computing power to sort through decades of census, IRS, and other administrative data — shows extreme differences of opportunity in neighborhoods within easy walking distance of each other — even between neighborhoods that in many ways seem quite similar to each other.
There is something more at play than just one’s location on a GPS. A number of government programs have moved families from low success neighborhoods to higher success neighborhoods. Just as a reference, preteens who makes such a move go on to earn an average of 31% more than those who do not make such a move. That represents a lifetime earnings increase of $100,000. The research also finds that the later in life a child moves the less success they have. This indicates that the earlier in life a community affects the child, the greater the influence.
The strongest correlation to upward mobility is the number of intact families in the neighborhood. The Atlantic article points out the obvious: “A second parent usually means higher family income as well as more stability, a broader social network, additional emotional support and many other intangibles.” But then comes the conundrum. The correlation is with the number of two-parent families in the neighborhood, not necessarily in the home. The research has not yet shown whether one causes the other or if they both may be the result of some third factor.
One suggestion in the Atlantic article is the possibility that strong church communities help kids while also fostering strong marriages. Had the article’s author known about the research of Yale faculty member James J. Choi, he could have stated that possibility with some scientific certainty. Choi’s evaluation of an evangelical protestant program teaching Christian values and theology education concluded “that this church-based program may represent a robust method of building non-cognitive skills and reducing poverty among adults in developing countries.”
That idea will not fly very well in socialist circles since one of the steps in creating a socialist takeover of a society is to destroy the family and the society’s morality. Research showing the value of a strong church community is antithetical to what socialists believe and want. In fact, a recent and widely circulated social media post vilified evangelical Christians and “all the evil they are doing.” Socialists apparently believe that strong families, economic opportunity, valuing the lives of every individual, and providing a strong moral base are somehow evil.
The point of my treatise though is that we as a society must stop disrespecting the value of two-parent families. We must also look to see what our society once had that we no longer have today. Among those missing items are strong two-parent families and a moral base that reflects the characteristics upon which this country was founded. To deny that is to deny the findings of “one of the most influential social scientists of his generation.”
Steve "Doc" Troxel, who lives in Lynchburg, is a columnist for The News Virginian. He is a retired university professor who writes a weekly email on political issues. To subscribe to his email, contact him at Doc@VoteDocTroxel.com. His column is published every other Monday.