Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects

Moving from poor to more affluent neighborhoods benefits adults and female youth, but has adverse effects for male youth.


Residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to have worse health, social, and economic outcomes than residents of more affluent neighborhoods. In theory, changing neighborhoods should change these outcomes, yet it is difficult to predict how a person will fare when he or she moves from one neighborhood to another. The Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing program offered a unique opportunity to study this topic in five major U.S. cities. The program offered vouchers to families living in high-poverty public housing to move to lower poverty neighborhoods. In this paper, the authors investigate the effects of moving out of high poverty neighborhoods on health and socioeconomic outcomes for adults and youth.


The initial results that were obtained four to seven years after baseline found that moving to a more affluent neighborhood led to improvements in adult mental health, but had no effect on an overall index of adult physical health or on economic self-sufficiency. Relocation to richer neighborhoods had beneficial outcomes for teenage girls, but the effects were not as clear for teenage boys.

  • After four to seven years, female youth who relocated through the program showed improvements on 13 out of 15 measures of health and well-being. The effects were largest for mental health, where the experimental group reported 70% lower risk of anxiety symptoms than the control group.
  • For male youth, young men in the experimental group found it more difficult to successfully integrate into their new environment. Young men in the experimental group were more likely to have a serious non-sports related injury or accident and were more likely to engage in risky health behaviors, such as smoking and substance abuse. 
  • For adults, relocation had no effect on earnings, welfare participation, or the amount of government assistance they received after five years. There was also no effect of the program on adult physical health overall; however, adults in the program did experience improvements in obesity and in mental health.

In short, adults who relocated to more affluent neighborhoods show improvements in the short-term on a few measures, including adult mental health and female youth health and well-being. 


The Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing program is a randomized housing relocation program that operated in five major cities in the United States. Families with at least one child and that were either living in public housing or receiving Section 8 assistance were eligible to participate. Each eligible family was randomly assigned to one of three groups: a Section 8 group, an experimental group, or a control group. The Section 8 group received a traditional Section 8 voucher that did not place a geographic relocation restriction on the family. The experimental group received a housing voucher that restricted the choice of neighborhoods to census tracts with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent. In addition, the experimental group also received mobility and relocation counseling. The control group received no additional assistance or services.

The study sample consisted of 4,248 households that participated in one of five sites of the program between 1994 and 1997. The data for the study was collected through a baseline survey prior to random assignment, and an extensive impact evaluation was conducted in 2002. As part of the impact evaluation, the study examined 15 primary outcomes for youth and 15 outcomes for adults, including indicators that measured economic self-sufficiency, physical health, mental health, risky behavior, and educational attainment.

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