Could moving out of a bad neighborhood actually be worse for kids? A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that relocating families to a more affluent environment can cause children to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder—especially boys.
Low-income neighborhoods are generally thought to be unhealthier for kids due to higher crime, financial insecurity, and reduced access to preventative care. But it turns out that moving to a more affluent neighborhood can often result in increased mental health issues. And it's much worse for boys than their female peers—after 10 to 15 years in their new homes, young men had higher rates of depression and conduct disorder, including PTSD rates which rivaled that of combat soldiers.
When it came to figuring out why the boys experienced such crippling psychological distress compared to girls, one theory paints a rather bleak picture of the people who already lived in those higher-income neighborhoods, according to the study's author, Harvard professor Ronald Kessler:
We had an anthropologist working with us, and the anthropologist went and talked to and watched the kids in the old neighborhoods and the new neighborhoods, and their perception was that when the boys came into the new neighborhood they were coded as these juvenile delinquents. Whereas with the girls, it was exactly the opposite. They were embraced by the community—"you poor little disadvantaged thing, let me help you."
Kessler's data came from a program called Moving to Opportunity, an experiment that's been conducted by the Housing and Urban Development department since 1994. Through the program, 4,600 low-income families have been randomly assigned rent vouchers, some of which allowed them to move to better neighborhoods, and some that did not.
Kessler acknowledged that his study might be a direct criticism of the way HUD ran the program, which may have improved in recent years. "My vague vision is to have HUD work more closely than it does now with families and with social services," he told the New Republic. "There are all these systems floating around that don't talk to each other. Housing should be coordinated with support, to make it so that people can thrive in better neighborhoods rather than drown."
Another way to look at it is that HUD's money might be better devoted to helping improve services and housing in those low-income neighborhoods, rather than paying for relocation. [New Republic]
Elijah Salters stands outside his current residence at the Auburn Family Residence, a shelter for homeless families and individuals, on February 21, 2014 in the Fort Greene neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)