NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 22, 2005

Children who live in areas of concentrated poverty consistently perform worse in school, have more health problems, and get in trouble with the law more often than children who grow up with more affluent neighbors. Adults in these poorer neighborhoods have lower employment rates and worse health. To what extent are these outcomes attributable to living in disadvantaged neighborhoods? The answer is critical to the design of education, health, housing, and other social policies aimed at assisting low-income families.

Researchers collected data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration, a randomized housing mobility experiment in which families living in high-poverty, inner-city, public-housing projects were offered housing vouchers to help them move to private housing units in lower-poverty neighborhoods.

The researchers find that neighborhoods do seem to have independent effects on youth education, health, and behavior, but that these effects are complex:

  • Girls fare significantly better in multiple dimensions after they move to more affluent neighborhoods; in the experimental and Section 8 groups, the girls showed improved mental health, better educational outcomes, and reductions in risky behaviors relative to the control group.
  • In contrast, boys appear either to be unaffected or to be affected negatively by such moves; the boys in the experimental and Section 8 groups experienced higher rates of substance use and suffered a large increase in non-sports injuries relative to the control group.

Moves to lower-poverty neighborhoods also appear to generate a nuanced pattern of effects on the adults in the MTO demonstration.

Taken together, these findings suggest that health concerns may need to return to the more prominent place in housing policy discussions that they held 60 years ago -- with a new emphasis on the importance of mental health, say the researchers.

Source: David R. Francis, "Moving to Opportunity?" NBER Digest, October 2005; based upon: Jeffrey Kling, Jeffrey Liebman and Lawrence Katz, "Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 11577, August 2005.

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