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Neighborhood Mechanisms and the Spatial Dynamics of Birth Weight

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionMorenoff, Jeffrey. "Neighborhood Mechanisms and the Spatial Dynamics of Birth Weight." PSC Research Report No. 01-482. August 2001.

This study examines neighborhood sources of racial and ethnic disparities in birthweight, an important early indicator of child health and well-being. Neighborhood-level measures of racial/ethnic composition, concentrated disadvantage, violent crime, and reciprocal exchange, and individual-level measures of behavioral and medical risk factors are used to model birthweight for 101,662 mothers nested within 342 Chicago neighborhood clusters. The results identify several factors that make neighborhoods more or less healthy places for mothers and their children. Violent crime, a marker for stressful neighborhood environments, is a key predictor of lower birthweight. The effect of violent crime on birthweight varies depending on the mother's race/ethnicity and her age: in high-crime neighborhoods, being an older mother is more advantageous for whites and Mexicans, but being younger is more advantageous for African Americans. Supportive neighborhood environments, in which neighbors exchange favors and advice and socialize with each other, correspond with higher infant birthweights. Neighborhood composition is also an important predictor: birthweight is higher for Mexican mothers living in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of minority residents, but lower for African-American mothers living in racially homogenous neighborhoods. In short, the analysis demonstrates that structural context, violent crime, neighborhood social processes, and medical/behavioral risk factors play simultaneous and interactive roles in predicting what is commonly thought to be a biological outcome.

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