Neighborhood and Gender Effects on Family Processes: Results from the Moving to Opportunity Program
A residential relocation program had minimal impact on the dynamics of participating families, though families who relocated to low poverty neighborhoods display harsher parenting practices toward their daughters.
Neighborhoods are central to our daily lives and can play a central role in child development and parent-child relationships. The socio-economic and social make-up of a neighborhood can contribute to access to resources, educational opportunities, but also inter-family relationships. A neighborhood’s influence can vary by gender, particularly during adolescence when gender differences in youth become more pronounced. To explore how neighborhood socioeconomic status and gender interact to affect parent-child relationships, the authors of this paper focus on the outcomes of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program. The primary goal of the program was to promote low-income families’ economic self-sufficiency by moving them from poor neighborhoods to more affluent communities with better job opportunities. Families in the MTO program were randomized into three groups: 1) received vouchers for private housing in low-poverty areas, 2) received vouchers for private housing in any neighborhood, and 3) received no assistance.
This study finds that the MTO program had minimal impact on the dynamics of participating families, although parents in families that relocated to low poverty neighborhoods were harsher toward their daughters.
- Parents in families that relocated to low-poverty areas treated their children more harshly than parents who did not relocate, as determined by an interviewer visit. In particular, parents in families that relocated were more likely to treat their daughters even more harshly than their sons.
- The program did not have other effects on family dynamics for those that moved to low-poverty areas.
- The program did not have any effects on family processes for families that were free to choose the neighborhood in which to live.
In short, the MTO program had minimal effects on family dynamics in the short term. Intriguingly, the MTO program had effects contrary to several of the authors’ hypotheses. In particular, the authors originally predicted that parents who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods would be less harsh and use less restrictive practices and more routines in the parenting of their children. However, they find that parents who moved treated their children more harshly but that other practices did not differ by moving status.
This study is based on data from the New York City site of the Moving to Opportunity Program. Moving to Opportunity is a randomized housing relocation program operating in five major cities in the United States. Families living in public housing or receiving assistance under the Section 8 program and who had at least one child under 18 were eligible to participate. Volunteer families were randomly assigned to (1) move to private housing in low-poverty neighborhoods, (2) move to private housing in neighborhoods of their choice, (3) or stay in public housing.
Baseline interviews were conducted between 1994 and 1999, prior to the random assignment. Follow-up interviews and semi-structured observations of the home environment were conducted approximately 3 years afterwards. The final sample included 303 families with 386 adolescent children.