I read an interesting piece in The Economist about where Americans are more or less likely to encounter people from other social classes.
These estimates come from a study that used mobile phone data to (1) estimate people’s homes (and roughly approximate their social class) and (2) see which establishments they visit during the day. The study is by Maxim Massenkoff (Naval Postgraduate School) and Nathan Wilmers (MIT Sloan School of Management).
The figure below describes the types of establishments in which people are most likely to encounter someone outside their class:
Where are class barriers the lowest? At McDonald’s. It, along with other fast-food and casual dining establishments, constitute four of the top five venues for class integration. Lowe’s, the home supplies megastore, claims the fifth spot. Chain restaurants from Arby’s to Olive Garden to IHOP to Applebee’s overwhelmingly monopolize the top 20. Large retail chains such as Walmart and PetSmart complete the list.
Where do classes not mix? It is far less likely that someone in the top economic quintile will visit poorer people’s schools, churches, grocery stores, and parks. In part, this is a product of America’s very strong economic segregation. Many communities fight to keep poorer people out of their neighborhoods and school districts, and their success means that they do not run into poorer people when living their local lives at the nearby food store or park.
If you are curious, here are the most class-integrationist retail chains in the study. The most integrationist is at the bottom, and segregation goes up as you move up the graph.
Big box stores and brand-name restaurants serve larger geographic areas, and attract taste segments that can cross-cut economic classes. Though the rich might fight tooth and nail to keep McDonald’s out of their immediate locality, at least some of them like the food and will mingle with other classes to eat it. Even if doing so risks the disapproval: