When I read the news that The College Board is expanding its use of an “Adversity Score” with the SAT (including measures of “the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood”), I immediately thought of a basic sociological question that is part of the discussion of the new methods: just how much does a neighborhood or location shape a person?
A few pieces of evidence:
1. A particular location shapes access to numerous resources from jobs to certain neighbors to local services and amenities to schools to certain political structures. Hence, residential segregation has significant influence on life chances.
2. Marketers seem to make a lot of zip codes. For example, Esri has a tool that divides American locations into certain slices:
Just head to the website, type in your zip code, and you’ll be greeted with a breakdown of your zip code’s demographic characteristics based on Esri’s “Tapestry” technology, which consists of 67 unique market segment classifications.
But more than that, the database is a fascinating glimpse into how marketers see the world, and how data profiles can link populations in distant cities—or not. Though cities like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, might be compared culturally, their marketing profiles are fairly distinct. And while the majority of consumers in Beverly Hills share a profile with those on Philadelphia’s Main Line, for example, they don’t match up with the profile for residents of similarly expensive zip codes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
At the same time, not everyone in a particular community or location has the same experience. Yet, locations are very formative for people even as they exercise some agency in responding to local conditions or making choices to move elsewhere.