Mechanisms of the neighborhood effect: Why growing up in disadvantage neighborhoods affects children’s educational outcomes


Joo, Young S. (2018). Mechanisms of the neighborhood effect: Why growing up in disadvantage neighborhoods affects children's educational outcomes.


Neighborhoods in which children grow up are increasingly recognized as one of the most important determinants affecting children’s various outcomes, with consequences that impact adulthood. Consistent research shows the negative impacts of growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and policy makers have extensively discussed the best strategies for counteracting the consequences of such experiences. However, empirical studies have not yet uncovered the mechanisms of why and how growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods affect children’s outcomes. Understanding the mediating mechanisms is important because it is useful in designing policy interventions to support children in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Since reducing neighborhood disadvantage is difficult and takes time, focusing on the mediating context may provide insights on strategies that may be effective in alleviating the negative consequences of growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Children build social relationships with their peers and neighbors within their neighborhoods and gain access to important institutional resources that may affect their outcomes. Among potential pathways that can explain the neighborhood effect, this dissertation applies social capital, collective socialization, and institutional resource theories and examines whether low-achieving peer groups, mentoring relationships, and school contexts mediate the effects of growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods on children’s educational outcomes (high school GPA is treated as a short-term outcome and college enrollment is treated as a long-term outcome). This dissertation also investigates whether indirect effects differ based on children’s gender and family poverty status, given the heterogeneity of the neighborhood effect. In this study, extensive data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) was utilized. The recently developed causal mediation method, which is the inverse odds ratio weighting (IORW) approach, was relied on to test joint mediation from peer groups, mentors, and schools. The IORW approach allows for interactions between multiple mediators, estimating the joint mediation of the exposure effect by a set of mediators that extends the standard mediation analysis. Findings point to the significance of joint mediation through peers and schools on the high school GPA. Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods decreases peer groups’ average GPA, their aspirations for higher education, and school contexts, which in turn decrease children’s high school GPA. The joint indirect effects are primarily a result of having peer groups with low GPAs. These joint effects are particularly significant for girls and children from families that are not poor, although there are no statistically significant indirect effects for boys and children from poor families. Unexpectedly, although growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood contributes directly to low college enrollment, peers, mentors, and schools are not significant mediators of this effect. There may be other pathways that explain the low college enrollment rate among children in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The indirect effects on college enrollment do not differ by gender and family poverty status. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of peer groups while examining the impact of growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods on children’s educational outcomes. Thus, the focus of policy intervention may be placed on targeting peer networks to improve academic achievement and change social norms affecting access to higher education.



Social sciences


ProQuest document ID 2166238893

Reference Type


Book Title

Social Welfare


Joo, Young S.

Series Author(s)

Magnuson, Kathrine

Year Published


Volume Number





The University of Wisconsin - Madison

City of Publication

Ann Arbor, MI





Reference ID