There were excellent questions raised by “The City is No Place to Raise a Child” post, so I’ve thought about it a bit more. If families rely on informal networks of individuals to help raise their children, shouldn’t it be easier to form and maintain networks in the suburbs, rather than in the city?
It seems to me that the question turns on whether there are more stay-at-home moms in the ‘burbs. According to Karen Hansen, the author of Not-So-Nuclear Families, networks are reciprocal relationships – she calls it the “reciprocity covenant”. “If you want to be helped by others, you must help them,” she writes. A key way to establish a network is to first help out the people you want to recruit to help you. So, if a mom is at home during the day, she’s probably better able to do favors for a neighbor, friend or family member,than is a mother who works full-time. And if there are more stay-at-home moms in the ‘burbs, networks should be easier to form and maintain, simply because there’s more time to spread around the neighborhood.
So are there more stay-at-home moms in the suburbs today? It turns out that the answer is no. Moms who live in the suburbs are actually just slightly more likely to work than women who live in central cities, according to Census 2000. (61% of women with children under the age of 6 who live inside the central city work, compared with 60% of women who live in the ‘burbs.) Also, suburban working parents are going further distances to their jobs, which further cuts back on their network building time.
It should be at least a little easier for an urban parent to build and maintain a network than it would be for a suburban parent. But there is a mitigating factor: racial diversity. Hansen finds that networks are most likely to form around people who share similar world views. While race isn’t a perfect proxy for world view, it would seem like a more diverse neighborhood would prove a challenge to establishing an effective network. More on this later.