Rubbing Shoulders: Class Segregation in Daily Activities

48 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2023 Last revised: 22 Aug 2023

See all articles by Maxim Massenkoff

Maxim Massenkoff

Naval Postgraduate School

Nathan Wilmers

Harvard University

Date Written: August 21, 2023


We use location data to study activity and encounters across class lines. Low-income and especially high-income individuals are socially isolated: more likely than other income groups to encounter people from their own social class. Using simple counterfactual exercises, we study the causes. While some industries cater mainly to low or high-income groups (for example, golf courses and wineries), industry alone explains only a small share of isolation. People are most isolated when they are close to home, and the tendency to go to nearby locations explains about one-third of isolation. Using our uniquely detailed data, we show that brands, combined with distance, explain about half the isolation of the rich. Casual restaurant chains, like Olive Garden and Applebee's, have the largest positive impact on cross-class encounters through both scale and their diversity of visitors. Dollar stores and local pharmacies like CVS deepen isolation. Among publicly-funded spaces, libraries and parks are more redistributive than museums and historical sites. And, despite prominent restrictions on chain stores in some large US cities, chains are more class diverse than independent stores. The mix of establishments in a neighborhood is strongly associated with cross-class Facebook friendships (Chetty et al., 2022). The results uncover how policies that support certain public and private spaces might impact the connections that form across class divides.

Suggested Citation

Massenkoff, Maxim and Wilmers, Nathan, Rubbing Shoulders: Class Segregation in Daily Activities (August 21, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Maxim Massenkoff (Contact Author)

Naval Postgraduate School ( email )

1 University Circle
Monterey, CA 93943-5001
United States

Nathan Wilmers

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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