CitationO'Brien, Daniel T.; Farrell, Chelsea; & Welsh, Brandon C. (2018). Broken (windows) theory: A meta-analysis of the evidence for the pathways from neighborhood disorder to resident health outcomes and behaviors. Social Science & Medicine.
AbstractThe criminological “broken windows” theory (BWT) has inspired public health researchers to test the impact of neighborhood disorder on an array of resident health behaviors and outcomes. This paper identifies and meta-analyzes the evidence for three mechanisms (pathways) by which neighborhood disorder is argued to impact health, accounting for methodological inconsistencies across studies. A search identified 198 studies (152 with sufficient data for meta-analysis) testing one of the three pathways or downstream, general health outcomes. The meta-analysis found that perceived disorder was consistently associated with mental health outcomes, as well as substance abuse, and measures of overall health. This supported the psychosocial model of disadvantage, in which stressful contexts impact mental health and related sequelae. There was no consistent evidence for disorder's impact on physical health or risky behavior. Further examination revealed that support for BWT-related hypotheses has been overstated owing to data censoring and the failure to consistently include critical covariates, like socioeconomic status and collective efficacy. Even where there is evidence that BWT impacts outcomes, it is driven by studies that measured disorder as the perceptions of the focal individual, potentially conflating pessimism about the neighborhood with mental health.
Keyword(s)Urban health Broken windows Neighborhood disorder Resident perceptions
Reference TypeJournal Article
Journal TitleSocial Science & Medicine
Author(s)O'Brien, Daniel T.
Welsh, Brandon C.