Durable Effects of Concentrated Disadvantage on Verbal Ability among African-American Children

Sampson, R.J., P. Sharkey, and S. Raudenbush
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008, 105(3):845-852.

Disparities in verbal ability, a major predictor of later life outcomes, have generated widespread debate, but few studies have been able to isolate neighborhood-level causes in a developmentally and ecologically appropriate way. This study presents longitudinal evidence from a large-scale study of >2,000 children ages 6 –12 living in Chicago, along with their caretakers, who were followed wherever they moved in the U.S. for up to 7 years. AfricanAmerican children are exposed in such disproportionate numbers to concentrated disadvantage that white and Latino children cannot be reliably compared, calling into question traditional research strategies assuming common points of overlap in ecological risk. We therefore focus on trajectories of verbal ability among African-American children, extending recently developed counterfactual methods for time-varying causes and outcomes to adjust for a wide range of predictors of selection into and out of neighborhoods. The results indicate that living in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood reduces the later verbal ability of black children on average by 4 points, a magnitude that rivals missing a year or more of schooling.

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