How Neighborhoods Affect Low-Income African-American and Latino Youth
Extensive and growing research shows that neighborhoods affect outcomes for children. Since the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) randomly assigns households on its waiting list to public housing units, children in DHA-assisted households present a natural experiment, known as “The Denver Child Study.” How do the outcomes of low-income, minority children raised in advantaged neighborhoods compare with those raised in disadvantaged neighborhoods? A rigorous statistical analysis isolated the relationship between the characteristics of a neighborhood and the children’s health, educational, behavioral, marriage and childbearing, and work outcomes.
The report includes major findings in several areas, detailed below.
- Children’s outcomes overall were better in neighborhoods with higher occupational prestige, larger shares of foreign-born residents, lower property crime rates, and fewer social problems.
- Protective parenting may explain why children do better on some indicators when living in a neighborhood with a high violent crime rate.
- Gender, ethnicity, and development stage change how children are affected, but the interaction depends on the particular outcome. No group is more sensitive to neighborhoods across the board.
Physical and Behavioral Health:
- Children exhibit better health outcomes when they live in a neighborhood with lower property crime, social problems, and respiratory and neurological pollution, and with greater occupational prestige, public resources, walkability, and land use diversity.
- Potential health problems of low-income Latino and African-American children are less likely to be diagnosed if they live in a neighborhood that lacks medical facilities or has higher violent crime rates, child abuse and neglect, and other social vulnerabilities.
- Children are less likely to engage in risky behaviors in neighborhoods with lower property crime rates, social problems, social vulnerability, percentage of homes built before 1940, respiratory pollution, and harmful peer influences.
Exposure to Violence:
- Children had less exposure to violence in neighborhoods with lower rates of property crime and social problems, and fewer homes built before 1940.
- Perhaps reflecting protective parenting, children in neighborhoods with higher rates of violent crime were less likely to witness violence at an early age.
Educational and Labor Market Outcomes:
- Neighborhood quality problems can drive children to succeed or create a recipe for self-defeat.
- For young women, higher violent crime rates or social problems in their neighborhood during high school was correlated with higher chances of acquiring postsecondary education. They were less likely to acquire a postsecondary education if their neighborhood during high school had higher property crime or child abuse rates.
- Children’s educational outcomes are stronger in neighborhoods that have greater occupational prestige and higher percentages of foreign-born and Latino residents.
- Educational outcomes are more favorable in neighborhoods that have lower rates of property crime and fewer homes built before 1940.
- The strongest educational outcomes were found in neighborhoods with moderate rates of violent crime (rather than having no violent crime reports), but outcomes worsen as violent crime rates exceed average levels.
- Youth are more likely to achieve a postsecondary education if they spent high school in neighborhoods with lower property crime and child abuse rates.
- Young adult full-time employment is more likely for those who spent high school in neighborhoods with more foreign-born residents and fewer Latino residents.
Marriage and Childbearing:
- Particularly for African-American children, growing up in a neighborhood with higher violent crime rates and higher occupational prestige was associated with a lower risk of becoming a teen parent, or getting married or cohabitating prior to age 25.
- These same outcomes are more likely in neighborhoods with more property crime, reports of social problems, and more homes built before 1940.