Community Environment

Moving beyond the family, there is considerable evidence that community conditions can affect children’s healthy development, especially in the case of children growing up in the most dangerous and socially disorganized communities (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000; Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). Community influences can originate in neighborhoods, schools, or other organizations and can operate through children’s peer groups, the adults with whom children come into contact, or the larger set of social and cultural practices in neighborhoods. Specifically, ethnic enclaves differ not only in socioeconomic characteristics but also in their adaptive culture (García Coll et al., 1996—see Box 3-4).

As with our discussion of family influences, we organize our discussion of neighborhood and community influences using the distinction between demography and processes. Community demography consists of readily measured characteristics (e.g., poverty, adult unemployment, crowding). Processes consist of the ways in which neighborhoods and communities operate to affect children’s well-being.

There are many definitions of a neighborhood or community environment (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). In empirical studies, it is typically a geographic area defined by the Census Bureau (tracts, which are locally defined community areas). But there are social definitions of communities that transcend geographic boundaries and can vary across families and ethnic groups (Jarrett, 1997).

Community Demography

Neighborhood Demographic and Economic Characteristics. The socioeconomic characteristics of a community have a strong association with such indi-

BOX 3-4
Community Influences

Community demographics

  • Neighborhood demographics and economic characteristics

Community processes

  • Schools and early education programs

  • Violence

  • Social organization of neighborhoods and schools

  • Peer influences

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