According to a popular real estate saying, “Three things matter for property: location, location, location.” Turns out, location can be as important to mental health as it is to property value. In a recent study, Kristin Turney, Rebecca Kissane, and Kathryn Edin demonstrate that mental health benefits abound for African American women who move into low-poverty neighborhoods as compared to others who remain living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The authors analyze data from interviews with 67 Baltimore adults participating in the Moving-to-Opportunity social experiment, a project that randomly gave 4,608 families living in public housing developments the chance to move into low-poverty neighborhoods. Of those interviewed, 33 received MTO’s move to low-poverty neighborhoods, while 34 had not been selected. All interviewed were female and the head of their household; 66 were African American and one was multiracial.
The authors found that both groups reported experiencing traumatic and stressful life experiences and mental health challenges. Many who moved endured additional challenges in transitioning from public to private housing, managing utility bills, securing transportation, and living farther from friends and family. However, the stresses of relocation were counteracted by improvements in neighborhood and home aesthetics, neighborhood collective efficacy and pride, lower violence and criminal activity, and better environments for raising children. On the whole, the improvements in physical and social environments positively impacted mental health of those who moved. The link between location and opportunity remains tenuous, but the link with quality of mental health is now better understood.