vidual health outcomes as infant mortality, birthweight, mental health, and cardiovascular status (Diez-Roux, 2002; Ellen et al., 2001). Several studies in various locations have found that even when controlling for important risk factors, such as income, race, smoking, body mass index, and alcohol consumption, residents of lower SES communities had higher rates of poor health than residents of higher SES communities (Malmstrom et al., 1999; Yen and Syme, 1999).

Yet a striking result in broad-based studies of neighborhood effects on children is that there are many more differences in families and children within neighborhoods than between them. Chase-Lansdale et al. (1997) found that, at most, 2 percent of the variation in behavior problems among 5- and 6-year-olds can be explained by a collection of neighborhood demographic and economic conditions, such as poverty, male joblessness, and ethnic diversity. Duncan et al. (2001) have shown that less than 5 percent of the variation in youth delinquency can be explained with knowledge of the neighborhood of residence. These findings must be tempered by the way in which more proximate and more distal influences are interpreted statistically.

Community Processes

National Research Council (1990), Coulton (1996), and Sampson et al. (2002) provide general summaries of ways in which neighborhood and community processes may affect children’s development, including:

  • institutional explanations, in which the neighborhood’s institutions and resources (e.g., schools, quality of food markets, health care facilities, public health, and police protection) rather than neighbors per se make the difference;

  • stress theory, which emphasizes social and psychological conditions, such as community violence, as well as the importance of exposure to such physical toxins as lead in soil and paint;

  • social organization theory, based on the importance of role models and values consensus in the neighborhood, which in turn limit problem behavior among young people; and

  • epidemic theories, based primarily on the power of peer influences to spread problem behavior.

Since adolescents typically spend a good deal of time away from their homes, explanations of neighborhood influences emanating from peer-based epidemics, role models, schools, and other neighborhood-based resources would appear to be more relevant for them than for younger children. However, interactions between preschool children and their kin, neighbors, religious communities, and child care and health systems suggest that neighborhood influences begin long before adolescence (Chase-Lansdale et al., 1997).

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