Being poor comes with a lot of unintended costs while being rich comes with unexpected benefits. For example, poor people are more likely to have poor health and poor oral hygiene, which can cost more money in the long run. Rich people, on the other hand, can afford to spend money to maintain their ideal fitness.
A recent article published in Royal Society of Open Science analyzes another advantage the rich have over the poor: rich people can sleep until later in the morning. Essentially, the wealthy are buying the opportunity to rest more and commute more efficiently.
The article in question uses data from human mobility studies, which examine large datasets of human movement in search of patterns at particular times of the day or year. This study uses survey response data from the Colombian cities of Manizales and Medellin. The authors divide their population into six different socioeconomic strata to look at finely tuned differences in economic status. This is possible because households in Colombia are legally classified into different economic tiers based on their physical and environmental characteristics. The Colombian government does this with a view to differentiated tariffs for public services.
The researchers then look at the mobility network per socio-economic class. These mobility networks are diagrams of people’s movements within their city. The researchers find that the network exhibits different structural properties for each socio-economic layer. The most densely populated classes, which mostly belong to the middle class, show more densely connected mobility networks, with people interacting more regularly in their daily movement patterns. Middle-income travelers also tend to use multiple modes of transportation, including public transit and some private options.
In contrast, the lowest classes and the highest classes both have large displacement paths, meaning that people in these classes travel greater distances every day. However, those in the highest socioeconomic strata usually only travel within a few zones of the city, usually in expensive modes of transport, such as personal vehicles or cars driven by others. By comparison, those in the lowest socioeconomic strata tend to spread throughout the city on irregular routes, likely due to reliance on walking or public transportation.
In addition to these spatial patterns, the authors are also interested in temporal patterns. So they look at the times of day when people in the different groups are likely to travel. The researchers were surprised to find that the timing of exercise is also closely related to socioeconomic status. They saw that as socioeconomic class increased, transit time during the morning rush hour shifted later in the day. So people with the lowest status had peak morning hours around 5 or 6 a.m., while those with higher incomes didn’t peak until around 7 a.m.
The authors conclude that higher socioeconomic status allows people to buy more time to sleep or engage in leisure activities in the morning, so they can leave their homes later. In contrast, people with less economic capital are more likely to leave their homes because they use slower and less reliable means of transport, such as walking or public buses.
While this study was designed to explore the importance of socioeconomic status in human mobility, it also shows another important point: wealth enables people to buy a more comfortable life. This is sobering because it suggests that owning wealth is a self-perpetuating state. The poor, who spend more time on the road, are less likely to increase their income. The poor may also not be able to afford the luxury of getting enough sleep, which affects their ability to pull themselves out of poverty.
An obvious solution for the poor is to provide them with a more efficient and affordable transit. If poor people could afford some of the time-related benefits that the rich can buy, they might be better placed to gain a foothold in a higher socio-economic stratum.
Royal Society of Open Science2016. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150654 (About DOIs).