A recent New York Times article features the work of HCEO members Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren on the role of neighborhoods in shaping children's later lives. While previous studies have demonstrated that the odds of economic success vary across neighborhoods, this recent work shows that neighborhoods nurture success or failure, rather than attract those who would succeed or fail irrespective of where they lived.
Chetty's and Hendren's work takes shape in two related studies. The smaller of the two, co-authored with Lawrence Katz, employs findings from the Moving to Opportunity experiment, a rare federal government initiative which provided lottery winners a voucher that enabled families to move to better neighborhoods. The authors find that these moves provided significantly better outcomes for children, but only when exposed to a better neighborhood for a prolonged period of time. Positive effects were seen for those who moved at age 12 or younger, but not for those who moved when 13 or older.
While these findings are suggestive, their scope is narrow as the study only followed a few thousand families. The second study addresses this concern, as it tracks neighborhoods of five million people over 17 years. This second study solidifies the findings of the first: the earlier a family moved to a good neighborhood, the better the outcomes of their children.
The New York Times