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Study: Better Neighborhoods Lead to Better Health for Children


  • How much influence does a neighborhood have on children’s health?
  • Abt studied 4,600 low-income families in the MTO program
  • Research suggests that neighborhood conditions affect residents’ health
The Challenge

Children who live in low-income neighborhoods often have poor health, but there can be many reasons for that. How much influence does the neighborhood itself have? Abt explored that question in a study of the Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration Program (MTO).

The Approach

The MTO program enrolled 4,600 low-income households with children living in public housing in high-poverty neighborhoods in five cities. Abt randomly assigned program applicants to one of three groups: an experimental group that could use the housing assistance voucher they received only if they moved to a higher-income neighborhood, a Section 8 group that received standard housing voucher assistance and a control group that received no vouchers.

The Results

Children who spent more than half of their time in higher-income neighborhoods had better health. Adults had lower levels of psychological distress and depressive symptoms and higher levels of neighborhood and housing quality. The research offers strong evidence that where people live can make a difference in their health. A better understanding of how neighborhood conditions affect health and other outcomes can help shape future housing policies.