Disparities in Home Are Disparities in Health

A family’s housing reality is often viewed as an index of its economic situation. However, Brian Jacob, Jens Ludwig, and Douglas Miller’s new NBER working paper joins a groundswell of research that demonstrates that housing situations are in fact proxies for much more than one’s socioeconomic status.

Analyzing data that captures every public housing family who applied for a housing voucher in Chicago in 1997 (when the city reopened its housing voucher wait-list for the first time in over a decade), they look at the effects on child mortality of moving from more to less distressed and dangerous neighborhoods. They illustrate that one’s housing experience, much beyond revealing one’s economic reality, could actually be a proxy for health outcomes, specifically youth mortality.

The study capitalizes on existing data that resulted from the nation’s third largest city, Chicago, randomly assigning housing voucher applicants to the Chicago Housing Authority’s wait-list in 1997. Looking at two groups of families — those who received housing vouchers and those who remained on the wait-list — the study demonstrated that receipt of the voucher resulted in large reductions in neighborhood distress, “for example a decline in census tract poverty rates of 26 percentage points.”

Furthermore, the study found that the move from highly disadvantaged public housing projects leads to significant reductions in mortality rates for female youth. While the transition from high poverty areas to less distressed areas resulted in a clearly positive health benefit for young females, the same cannot be said for young males. Mortality rates actually increased for male youth as a result. The research suggests that male and female youth react differently to relocating from one neighborhood to another, with males engaging in more risky behavior as a consequence.

Ashlee Gabrysch is a 2013 MPP graduate of the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in Medicaid and Medicare.

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