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Understanding Crime Trends: Workshop Report
on crime trends in New York City highlight the challenges of estimating neighborhood influences on crime trends.
For several decades, research on neighborhood and community variation in crime and delinquency focused on identifying cross-sectional between-area differences in rates of violent or property crime. Often constrained by data limitations, these studies have adopted a static view of community or neighborhood, assuming that differences in crime rates between neighborhoods were stable over time, and that these differences reflected differences in the characteristics of communities that were stable over time (see, for example, Bursik, 1984). Shaw and McKay (1943), for example, showed that crime rates were predictably higher in socially disorganized communities, independent of the residents of those areas. More recently, Land, McCall, and Cohen (1990) suggested that the social and economic correlates of crime were stable over time and across different spatial aggregations.
More recent studies have adopted a dynamic, developmental perspective to the study of social and economic behaviors in communities and neighborhoods. Recent interest in neighborhood effects has produced new research on small-area variations in child development and child maltreatment, teenage sexual behavior and childbearing, school dropout, home ownership, and several indicators of health, suicide, disorder, drug use, and adolescent delinquency (see, e.g., Brooks-Gunn et al., 1993; Coulton, Korbin, Su, and Chow, 1995; Crane, 1991; Gould, 1990; Gould et al., 1990; Harding, 2003; Wilkinson and Fagan, 1996).
These studies make strong claims that growing up in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated socioeconomic disadvantage has enduring consequences on child and adolescent development. These disadvantages are thought to affect adults as well, attenuating their access to decent housing, job networks that provide access to stable family-sustaining wages, and quality education to prepare them for changing labor markets (Jargowsky, 1997; Massey and Denton, 1993; Wilson, 1987).1
But fewer studies have recognized that neighborhoods are dynamic
Not everyone agrees, however, citing weak evidence that there are neighborhood effects independent of the consequences of growing up in poor families on individuals that are net of the aggregate effects on poor people concentrated in poor places (Jencks and Mayer, 1990; see, generally, Raudenbush and Sampson, 1999). Indeed, just how important neighborhoods are can be gauged by the relative contributions of neighborhood effects and individual factors in multilevel studies of covarying change over time (Raudenbush and Sampson, 1999). Recent work by Harding (2003) suggests that after adjusting for the selection biases that produce the concentration effects of poor people in specific neighborhoods, there are important negative effects of growing up in a low-poverty neighborhood on school dropout and teen pregnancy.