Neighborhood Physical Disorder and Early Delinquency Among Urban Children

Sarah Gold & Lenna Nepomnyaschy

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Gold, S. & Nepomnyaschy, L. (1). Neighborhood Physical Disorder and Early Delinquency Among Urban Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(4), 919–933.

Child well-being , delinquency , fragile families , housing , neighborhoods , youth

The neighborhoods in which children grow up have consequences for their short‐ and long‐term well‐being. Although most neighborhood research measures disadvantage at the census tract level, more proximate physical characteristics of neighborhoods may be more relevant indicators of neighborhood quality for the well‐being of young children. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this study explores the association between these more proximate indicators of neighborhood physical disorder measured across childhood (ages 3 to 9) and early delinquency at age 9. Descriptive results (N = 2,989) indicate that exposure to neighborhood physical disorder across childhood is common among children in urban areas. Multivariate analyses suggest that exposure to neighborhood physical disorder, particularly for older children, is strongly associated with a higher likelihood of engagement in early delinquent behaviors, over and above family and census tract‐level measures of disadvantage. Associations remain robust to numerous supplementary analyses and alternate specifications.

Main finding
Experiencing proximate physical disorder from ages three to nine was strongly associated with engagement in early delinquent behaviors by age nine, even while controlling for child, parent, household, and neighborhood characteristics. Nearly three-quarters of the children sampled experienced some disorder between the ages of three and nine. When and how often children experienced disorder was important for delinquency. In middle childhood, experiencing disorder at age nine was particularly impactful on early delinquency. Experiencing disorder at multiple waves of study (and thus throughout early childhood) was associated with increased early delinquency.

Description of method used in the article
The researchers analyzed five data waves, from birth to age nine, from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal study that follows 5,000 U.S. children born between 1998–2000. The study oversampled children born to unmarried parents. The study waves were conducted with the parents first at the child's birth, and then at ages one, three, five, and nine, with the children also interviewed at age nine. The authors' main analyses use a sample of 2,989 children with valid data on delinquency, at least one wave of proximate physical disorder, baseline covariates, and who lived with their biological mother for at least one follow-up wave of study. The dependent variable is the children's self-reports of 17 delinquent behaviors at the age of nine using the Things That You Have Done scale, measured dichotomously for whether children participated or did not participate in any of the behaviors. The primary independent variable is proximate physical disorder based on interviewer ratings of the Home Observation Measurement of the Environment inventory, which is measured both at each wave of the study and when averaged. Various child, parent, household, and neighborhood characteristics associated with experiencing proximate physical disorder and early delinquency are controlled for, including children's health, household disadvantage, and overall neighborhood disadvantage measured through census tract-level indicators.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
3D / Digital / Datasets
Physical types
Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations