Assessing “Neighborhood Effects”: Social Processes and New Directions in Research

Robert J. Sampson, Thomas Gannon-Rowley & Jeffrey D. Morenoff

Go to article

Sampson, R. J. , Gannon-Rowley, T. & Morenoff, J. D. (1). Assessing “Neighborhood Effects”: Social Processes and New Directions in Research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28(1), 443–478.

[disorder , collective efficacy] , ecology , ecometrics , mechanisms , Neighborhood effects , problem behavior , social processes

This paper assesses and synthesizes the cumulative results of a new “neighborhood-effects” literature that examines social processes related to problem behaviors and health-related outcomes. Our review identified over 40 relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals from the mid-1990s to 2001, the take-off point for an increasing level of interest in neighborhood effects. Moving beyond traditional characteristics such as concentrated poverty, we evaluate the salience of social-interactional and institutional mechanisms hypothesized to account for neighborhood-level variations in a variety of phenomena (e.g., delinquency, violence, depression, high-risk behavior), especially among adolescents. We highlight neighborhood ties, social control, mutual trust, institutional resources, disorder, and routine activity patterns. We also discuss a set of thorny methodological problems that plague the study of neighborhood effects, with special attention to selection bias. We conclude with promising strategies and directions for future research, including experimental designs, taking spatial and temporal dynamics seriously, systematic observational approaches, and benchmark data on neighborhood social processes.

Main finding
This article reviews the literature on the effects of neighborhood social processes on residents' wellbeing, an interdisciplinary area of study with implications for how public space in our neighborhoods can impact crime, feelings of safety, and various life chances through signs of disorder and/or through fostering collective efficacy. The review highlights the importance of social mechanisms such as informal social control, institutional resources, routines, and perceived disorder while criticizing the inconsistent methodologies present in the literature. The methodological takeaways and main findings of 40 academic articles from the mid-1990s to 2001 were summarized. Methodologically, the use of community-based surveys to study neighborhood processes and, importantly, between-neighborhood differences were found to be reliable and valid but not widespread, and, while inconsistent, four main operationalizations of neighborhood mechanisms were identified: social ties, collective efficacy, institutional resources, and the impact of land use patterns on routine activities. The findings of the articles showed that the strongest links were between these neighborhood mechanisms and crime outcomes and that shared norms of collective efficacy are critical for neighborhood safety. Concentrated poverty, disorder, and low neighborhood cohesion are linked to high-risk adolescent behavior and mental distress, and the link between disorder and crime is mixed, potentially having a confounding variable.

Description of method used in the article
Forty studies within the “neighborhood-effects” literature met the authors’ criteria for review and were thematically synthesized. Fifteen studies used neighborhood-level measures of social processes, seventeen used individual-level measures, and eight used multilevel measures.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Theoretical (Delete me)
Physical types
Geographic locations