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Socio-spatial inequality, deprived neighbourhoods, and neighbourhood effects

Final Report Summary - DEPRIVEDHOODS (Socio-spatial inequality, deprived neighbourhoods, and neighbourhood effects)

The objective of the DEPRIVEDHOODS project was to come to a better understanding of the relationship between socio-economic inequality, poverty and neighbourhoods. The spatial concentration of poverty within cities is of great concern to national governments, partly based on a belief in neighbourhood effects: the idea that living in deprived neighbourhoods has an additional negative effect on residents’ life chances over and above the effect of their own characteristics. This belief has contributed to the development of area-based policies designed to introduce a more ‘favourable’ socio-economic mix in deprived neighbourhoods. Despite the persistent belief in neighbourhood effects, there is surprisingly little evidence that living in deprived neighbourhoods really affects individual lives. There is little consensus on the importance of neighbourhood effects, the underlying causal mechanisms, the conditions under which they are important and the most effective policy responses. The DEPRIVEDHOODS project has studied simultaneously neighbourhood sorting over the life course, neighbourhood change, and neighbourhood effects, within one theoretical and analytical framework. The main conclusions of the DEPRIVEDHOODS project can be summarised to be in three areas.

The first is that socio-economic segregation is increasing in European cities. The poor and rich are increasingly living in different parts of the same city. These increasing levels of segregation are related to increasing levels of inequality. From the perspective of individuals, segregation is an inter-generational process. Children who are born in a low income neighbourhood are quite likely to live in such neighbourhood throughout their childhood, and even throughout adulthood. This effect is stronger for ethnic minorities than for other groups.

The second is that segregation should be seen as a multi-dimensional and multi-scale phenomenon. Segregation by income or ethnicity occurs not just in residential neighbourhoods, but also in schools, workplaces, and leisure sites. And segregation in each of these domains is interconnected. Segregation is also multi-scale as it occurs at a continuum of spatial scales, from the very micro to large urban regions. To understand the impact of segregation on individuals it is therefore crucial to take a multi-scale perspective.

The third conclusion relates to the importance of neighbourhood effects, or effects of the spatial context on individual outcomes. DEPRIVEDHOODS has studied neighbourhood effects using innovative designs, including a sibling design, an advanced model to control for selection, and a design taking into account whole neighbourhood histories. Although the found neighbourhood effects are small, they are significant and especially important for children and their outcomes later in life.

The project has used unique geo-referenced longitudinal data from Sweden, United Kingdom, Estonia, and The Netherlands. DEPRIVEDHOODS has resulted in 53 academic peer reviewed journal articles to date, 4 completed 4 phd theses, 3 published books and 9 published book chapters. The project has received a lot of media attention from major newspapers in Europe and beyond.