Pleasant.1

More Americans are moving out of middle class places like Pleasantville, the fictional town in the 1998 film of the same name starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. (Ralph Nelson / New Line Cinema / November 6, 1998)

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Fewer people are living in middle class neighborhoods in America as people increasingly dwell in areas segregated by income extremes.

American families are moving to areas that are focused more exclusively on either the wealthy or the poor, a trend that could exacerbate the growing income divide, according to a study by professors at Cornell University and Stanford University.

The study called this trend "income segregation."

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Compared with 1970, when 65% of American families lived in middle income areas, only about 42% of families lived in those areas in 2009, the study concluded.

In the same period, those living in well-off neighborhoods climbed to 15% from 7%. The percentage of those residing in poor areas also jumped, to 18% from 8%.

"In 1970, only 15% of families lived in one of the two extreme types of neighborhoods," the study said. "By 2009, that number had more than doubled to 33%."

Authors of the study said the trend may be partly driven by people with children who want the safest neighborhoods with the best schools. Those without kids may be more likely to live in economically diverse areas.

"Parents are more sensitive to neighborhood context and place-based amenities, such as schools," the report said. "The presence of children makes residential location more important, and thereby aggravates residential sorting by income."

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