The Effects of Social Context on Youth Outcomes: Studying Neighborhoods and Schools Simultaneously
by Noli Brazil — 2016
Background/Context: A long line of research has empirically examined the effects of social context on child and adolescent well-being. Scholars have paid particular attention to two specific levels of social context: the school and neighborhood. Although youths occupy these social contexts simultaneously, empirical research on schools and neighborhoods has largely been conducted independently of one another.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study reviews neighborhood and school effects studies conducted between 2005 and 2013 to determine the degree to which these research domains have exclusively examined a single context. The study then uses nationally representative data to compare estimates of school and neighborhood effects across a variety of youth outcomes. The comparison reveals how much estimates of school and neighborhood effects change after accounting for both levels of context.
Research Design: Cross-classified random effects models are used to estimate the effects of school and neighborhood disadvantage on a variety of youth outcomes. For each youth outcome, I compare the effects of concentrated disadvantage and the percent of variation explained at the school and neighborhood levels across two models: a single context effects model that includes only the school or neighborhood and a model including characteristics of both contexts.
Findings/Results: Of the 238 school and neighborhood effects studies examined in the review, only 46, or 21%, account for both neighborhoods and schools in the analysis. The multivariate regression results indicate that excluding a level of context has greater consequences on the estimates of neighborhood effects than on school effects. However, ignoring the neighborhood obscures its independent effects on key adolescent outcomes.
Conclusions/Recommendations: An empirical analysis of context effects on youth well-being should account for both neighborhoods and schools in order to minimize bias in parameter estimates. Furthermore, simultaneously analyzing schools and neighborhoods will move the study of school and neighborhood effects forward by illuminating policies and strategies in which neighborhoods and schools can work together to increase the overall well-being of children and adolescents.
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