Neighborhoods and Health

Researchers have long acknowledged a link between poverty and poor health. Now Mariana Arcaya has uncovered a link between health and mobility in high-poverty neighborhoods. In a January 2016 paper, Arcaya, a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, revealed that families whose children suffer health problems have a more difficult time emerging from high-poverty neighborhoods than neighboring families whose children are healthy. Based on data collected during the federal government’s Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing program—a randomized experiment that distributed vouchers to low-income families, enabling them to move to new neighborhoods—the study showed that families without child health care issues were far more likely to move to low-poverty neighborhoods than families whose children were ill.

While the research did not reveal the causes for the discrepancy, Arcaya, who studies the dynamic relationships between neighborhoods and health, believes that the additional burden of caring for a sick child might make the thought of moving overwhelming to some families. She also suggests that families might be reluctant to abandon the ad hoc support networks they’ve cobbled together with neighbors, relatives, and friends. “We may well undervalue investment in health care as a poverty deconcentration tool,” says Arcaya. “If health affects neighborhood choice, we really need to know that.”