The class divide over life near the family

You may have followed a similar trajectory to mine. You go to college, get your degree, start your career, and continue that career in whatever city it takes you. Inevitably, this led me to Tampa, Florida, residing several states away from my parents. This pattern is quite common among career-oriented people, especially in the United States. But that brings its own set of consequences.

My partner’s family lives in Albany. She had to leave for her niche academic job (Bronze Age archaeology). All of my closest friends live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from their parents and extended family.

For someone to stay close to their family is often driven by socio-economic factors. If you come from a poorer background, you are much more likely to live close to family, as it is common to pool resources. For example, if your car breaks down, being able to give you a ride or borrow a car can be extremely helpful, especially if you can’t afford to repair the car or rent another one. The same goes if you lose your job. It becomes much easier to survive a period of unemployment with close loved ones nearby.

Race also plays a role in family distance. A study found that the the median distance between white adults and their mothers is 15 miles, but is only three miles for black adults. This is also affected by the above socioeconomic factors, which come into play in racial income disparities.

We are less likely to live further from family in the US than in the UK, due to their increased support for single mothers and for the poor.

But as you move up the education (and income) brackets, your chances of succeeding live close to family falls quite quickly. A high school diploma means you have a 63% chance of living near your extended family. A bachelor’s degree corresponds to a chance of 48%, and a higher education diploma to 42%.

Is it ideal for Americans to live so far from their families?

For me there is certainly a feeling of having missed something. I am in a group with my parents and my sister (who lives a few kilometers from my parents). Very often I see them sending photos to and from the area. Sometimes there’s a message saying they forgot something at home or are meeting up for wine tasting (my parents operate a vineyard).

Part of me hurts and knows I miss being part of their story. But for me, it was important to forge my own story, to flourish in the world and to be independent.

I’m also lucky that my family and I don’t have a toxic relationship like so many people do. I don’t need to have a difficult conversation about boundaries, and a parent stopping by unexpectedly during the day, or struggling with the constant pressure of visitation. The separation between us is purely career driven.

But in our case, it puts more pressure (in a good way) to make the most of our time together. Trips to other places, like New York, become opportune times to celebrate and…

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