Happily ever after in Hollywood: Where are the top California neighborhoods for family stability?
Progressives, including those who control the commanding heights of the culture, are more likely to celebrate family diversity and downplay the idea that the two-parent family plays a central role in childhood development, economic opportunity, and communal vitality.1 California — widely touted as a vanguard for progressive cultural values — is a prime example of this. This report finds that college-educated Californians are especially likely to endorse the ideas that family diversity should be celebrated and that there is nothing wrong with single women having children on their own. In other words, California elites “talk left” when it comes to the family ethic they embrace in public.
But when it comes to their own families, California elites with kids overwhelmingly “live right” in private, giving their children the benefit of growing up in a two-parent family. In fact, this pattern of talking left and living right plays out at the neighborhood level in the Golden State as well. It turns out that some of the most elite neighborhoods in the state — including several in Hollywood and San Francisco — have virtually no single parents.
Using a new dataset from Harvard University’s Opportunity Atlas, we scanned neighborhoods with at least 250 children in the Atlas’ sample to locate California neighborhoods with low rates of single parenthood.2 We found that 40 Californian neighborhoods (with geographic boundaries defined by U.S. census tracts) reported a staggeringly low 0% single parenthood rate between 2012 and 2016, based on data from the American Community Survey (ACS). Because ACS data is drawn from a sample of families in these neighborhoods, not the entire population of families with children in these communities, they undoubtedly missed some single-parent families. But it is clear that these 40 neighborhoods — which are depicted in dark blue in the maps below — have very low rates of single parenthood, meaning that almost all of the children in these neighborhoods are being raised in two-parent families.
Figure A1. Map of neighborhoods across California with low single-parenthood rates (top 40 neighborhoods are highlighted in dark blue and all neighborhoods with fewer than 20% single parenthood are highlighted in light blue).
In looking at the geographic location of the neighborhoods, we discovered that many of them stand at the center of economic and cultural power in California. Take, for example, census tract 134.00, located in San Francisco’s swanky Pacific Heights neighborhood. Strolling through the streets of this neighborhood, you will find multi-million dollar historic row houses, and a pleasantly-tiered Alta Plaza park with picturesque views of the San Francisco Skyline. Residents of this neighborhood had a median income of about $135,000 between 2012 and 2016, and Hilary Clinton received more than 80% of the vote here in the 2016 election. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Larry Ellison, cofounder of Oracle, own homes just two blocks from this census tract.
Figure A2. Map of neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area with low single-parenthood rates (top 40 neighborhoods are highlighted in dark blue and all neighborhoods with fewer than 20% single parenthood are highlighted in light blue).
In Southern California, three neighborhoods with single parenthood rates of essentially 0% can be found in the heart of Hollywood. Take a trip through Whitley Heights Historic District, below the Hollywood Sign, and nestled among the lavish former residences of Francis X. Bushman and Judy Garland, you will find residents who voted for Clinton by a rate of about 86% in 2016. You will also find virtually no single parents in this Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
Figure A3. Map of neighborhoods in Southern California with low single-parenthood rates (top 40 neighborhoods are highlighted in dark blue and all neighborhoods with fewer than 20% single parenthood are highlighted in light blue).
And when we looked at neighborhoods across California that score in about the upper third for family structure — that is, communities where less than 20% of the parents are single parents — we found that these neighborhoods are disproportionately college-educated, affluent, white, and Asian. Table A1 is indicative of the ways in which neighborhoods with comparatively few single parents tend to be more privileged. About 46% of adults aged 25 and over in these neighborhoods have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31% of adults across all California neighborhoods. The poverty rate in these neighborhoods is about half the California average, and the median households bring in about an extra $30,000 per year of income.
It’s also clear from the maps above that much of Silicon Valley, many of the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, and many nice beach-side communities across the state have comparatively few single parents. Two-parent families dominate the state’s elite neighborhoods.
These geographic patterns are largely consistent with the findings in this report. More elite neighborhoods in California tend to have markedly fewer single parents than is true for the average neighborhood in the state. This matters because children who are raised in neighborhoods with fewer single parents tend to enjoy better schools, less crime and disorder, and more opportunities growing up, which in turn lead to better outcomes for them as adults — from greater incomes to higher marriage rates to lower odds of incarceration.6 The bottom line is that many elite families in California are triply advantaged: they are more likely to be headed by two parents, they have more educational and economic resources, and they often live in neighborhoods characterized by more two-parent families that afford better opportunities for their children. But despite privately surrounding themselves with neighbors who enjoy more stable families, this report suggests that comparatively few of the elites who make their homes in places like the Hollywood Hills or Pacific Heights lend public voice to the importance of stable, two-parent families for other people’s children across the Golden State — or the nation at large.
1. Christina Cross, “The Myth of the Two-Parent Home,” The New York Times, December 9, 2019.
2. Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, and Sonya Porter. Working Paper. “The Opportunity Atlas: Mapping the Childhood Roots of Social Mobility,” Online web tool: https://opportunityatlas.org.
3. US Census Bureau, 2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Table S1501. Educational Attainment by California Census Tract.
4. US Census Bureau, 2010 Decennial Census. Table QT-P3. Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin by California Census Tract.
5. Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, and Sonya Porter. Working Paper. “The Opportunity Atlas: Mapping the Childhood Roots of Social Mobility,” Online web tool: https://opportunityatlas.org.
6. Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility I: Child Exposure Effects,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 33, no. 3 (August 2018): 1107-1162; Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, et al., “Race and economic opportunity in the United States: An intergenerational perspective,” National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018; Raj Chetty, JN Friedman, et al., “The Opportunity Atlas: Mapping the childhood roots of social mobility,” National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018; W. Bradford Wilcox, Jacob Van Leeuwen, and Joseph Price, “The Family Geography of the American Dream: New Neighborhood Data on the Single-Parenthood, Prisons, and Poverty, Institute for Family Studies Blog, 2018.