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How Does Family Well-Being Vary across Different Types of Neighborhoods?

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Document date: May 10, 2006
Released online: May 10, 2006

No. 6 from the series "Low-Income Working Families"

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


A substantial body of social science research finds that living in high-poverty and racially isolated neighborhoods can undermine the well-being and life-chances of both children and adults. Clearly, neighborhood environment is not the sole—or even the most important—factor influencing people's well-being; individual and family attributes also play critical roles and interact in complex ways with neighborhood characteristics. Just because researchers observe a high incidence of a problem (such as poor health or teen parenting) in high-poverty neighborhoods does not necessarily mean that the neighborhood environment caused the problem. It may mean that many families with these problems ended up living in high-poverty neighborhoods, perhaps because housing was more affordable there or because discrimination limited access to other neighborhoods. Nevertheless, rigorous research indicates that neighborhood isolation and distress can contribute to or exacerbate individual and family distress (Ellen and Turner 1997).

Regardless of whether neighborhood conditions cause problems in the lives of families, an increased incidence of problems in particular neighborhoods warrants policy attention. For example, it may make sense to target interventions to neighborhoods with high levels of a particular problem. In addition, programs focusing on one problem—such as underemployment—in a distressed neighborhood may have to address a related problem—such as poor health—that also occurs at high rates.

This paper uses the latest data from the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF) to explore variations across types of neighborhood environments in the well-being of families and children. Its goal is to take advantage of the richness of NSAF's data on family work effort, economic security, access to services and supports, and child well-being to shed new light on the relevance and role of neighborhood environment.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Families and Parenting | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net


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