Neighborhood Characteristics

Why is this important?

People spend more than two-thirds of their time where they live, and the quality of homes and neighborhoods has powerful effects on individual and family health [i]. The social, physical, and economic characteristics of neighborhoods have been increasingly shown to affect short- and long-term health and longevity. A neighborhood’s physical characteristics may promote health by providing safe places for children to play and for adults to exercise that are free from crime, violence and pollution [ii].  Safe access to public services, amenities, and public transportation without the fear of crime also affects health. Conversely, a high prevalence of abandoned buildings leads to a breakdown in social capital and increase in isolation and increase in criminal activity [i]. Neighborhoods with poor-quality housing and unsafe conditions impose stress which can lead to depression [iii], and a person’s zip code is widely understood to be the best predictor of health and success in adulthood [iv]. These negative effects may be disproportionally felt by low-income residents who live in neighborhoods with poor characteristics because they may be more affordable.


[i] De Leon, Erwin and Joseph Schilling. “Urban Blight and Public Health.” Urban Institute (2017).

[ii] “Where We Live Matters for Our Health: The Links Between housing and Health.” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Issue Brief 2: Housing and Health. (2008).

[iii] Cutrona, Carolyn E., Gail Wallace, and Kristin A. Wesner. “Neighborhood Characteristics and Depression: An Examination of Stress Processes.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.4 (2006)

[iv] Chetty, Raj and Nathaniel Hendren. “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility.”  Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research (2015).