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Justice

Why Poor Boys Who Move to Rich Neighborhoods Still Face Risks

New research finds an increase in delinquency for young boys (though not girls) if the surrounding areas remain disadvantaged.
Young boys play basketball in a blighted neighborhood in Baltimore.
Young boys play basketball in a blighted neighborhood in Baltimore.AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development embarked on an experiment to test the effect of housing vouchers. The Moving to Opportunity study randomly assigned some 47 percent of the 4,600 participating families vouchers that allowed them to shift from high-poverty neighborhoods (with more than 40 percent residents living below the poverty line) to low-poverty ones (with less than 10 percent living below it).

Some findings from the MTO program, released in 2011, revealed that moving to richer neighborhoods increased risky behavior (such as smoking, drinking, using drugs) and delinquency (violent and property crimes) among young boys in these families—contrary to what other research had suggested. (Though these behaviors decreased among girls.) In a new research paper published in the journal Criminology, Penn State sociologist Corina Graif revisited MTO data with a broader geographical lens and found that it wasn’t just the neighborhoods where these boys lived but also the surrounding ones that influenced their behavior.