Do Neighborhood Effects Depend on the Definition of the Neighborhood?

Jennifer A. Ailshire, University of Southern California
Jeffrey D. Morenoff, University of Michigan
Robert Melendez, University of Michigan

Definitions used in studies of neighborhood effects tend to be data driven and although more theoretically-driven definitions have been proposed, little empirical work uses alternative conceptualizations of neighborhood boundaries. This paper examines the effects of neighborhood sociodemographic composition and signs of disorder on residents’ reports of fear using different neighborhood definitions. We compare more commonly used definitions, those based on census boundaries, with distance-based definitions and vary the size of the boundary. We find stronger effects of sociodemographic composition when neighborhoods include larger areas, suggesting that residents’ fear is more strongly influenced by sociodemographic characteristics of the macroenvironment. In contrast, we find weaker effects of disorder with increasing neighborhood size, indicating that localized disorder is more consequential for fear. Although the relationships between neighborhood characteristics and fear are essentially unchanged across neighborhood definitions, the strength of the relationship varies with neighborhood size and the direction depends on the neighborhood process.

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Presented in Session 104: Neighborhood Processes and Effects