Racial and Ethnic Inequality in the Duration of Children’s Exposure to Neighborhood Poverty and Affluence

June 2006

Jeffrey M. Timberlake, University of Cincinnati

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Despite much scholarly attention to “neighborhood effects” on children, no study to date has measured the cumulative exposure of children to neighborhood poverty and affluence. In this paper I construct multi-state period life tables to estimate racial and ethnic inequality in the amount of time children can expect to live in poor and nonpoor neighborhoods throughout childhood. At rates prevailing in the mid-1990s, Black and Latino children can expect to spend almost 50% of childhood in neighborhoods with poverty rates in excess of 20%. The corresponding figure for White children is about 10%. I find that Black/White differences in childhood exposure to neighborhood poverty are due largely to differences in the probability of being born into a poor neighborhood, as opposed to differences in rates of upward and downward neighborhood mobility during childhood. Finally, cross-period analyses indicate that White children's share of childhood in the most affluent neighborhood type increased rapidly beginning in the late 1980s and that although Black children's exposure to nonpoor neighborhoods has increased since the mid-1970s, a substantial fraction of childhood is still spent in the poorest neighborhood type.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Race and Ethnicity