Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Elisabeth D. Root

Second Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Third Advisor

Fernando Riosmena

Fourth Advisor

Seth Spielman

Fifth Advisor

Allison Atteberry

Abstract

Behavioral and academic outcomes have been explored in relation to neighborhood contexts, but most research conducted on this population ignores time, space, and the multiple ecologies to which children belong. The vast majority of studies rely on cross-sectional data and limited conceptualizations of residential neighborhoods, which only characterize children's contexts at one point in time and grossly ignore other influential spatial contexts. Moreover, most studies only model home-school or home-neighborhood combinations. Given the high degree of correlation between home, school, and neighborhood characteristics, any analysis that omits one of these contexts runs the risk of overstating or misstating the effect of each. Further, few observational studies address the fact that families have agency in choosing where to live, leading to selection bias and threatening the validity of existing research on neighborhood effects. This dissertation uses nationally representative, longitudinal survey data, longitudinal propensity scores, and multiple conceptualizations of residential and school neighborhoods to address these gaps and analyze empirical and policy relevant questions about how, when, and to what degree neighborhood contexts affect child and early adolescent development. Results show that: (1) after controlling for multiple social ecologies as well as selection bias, residential and school neighborhood contexts exerted significant and direct effects on educational and behavioral outcomes, (2) both family and school contexts simultaneously mediated between residential neighborhood contexts and reading and math scores and internalizing and externalizing behaviors, (3) for reading and math scores, the mediating effect of family and school lessened over time whereas the direct effect of neighborhood increased over time, (4) school attendance zones represented the ideal local context for examining contextual effects on childhood development, and (5) neighborhoods more strongly influence educational outcomes for children with ADHD relative to their non-impaired peers. This dissertation has important implications for future studies examining neighborhood effects on child health, well-being and development. It speaks directly to the importance and impact of social and environmental contexts. Although researchers and policymakers generally focus on the school as the critical arena in which development occurs, I argue that the focus should be on a combination of child, family, school, and neighborhood.

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