The idea that neighborhoods have subtle but powerful effects on our health goes back at least to the 1920s, says Jens Ludwig, a sociologist at the University of Chicago Law School.
This question is one that I have been personally very interested in for a long time, partly because I live here on the South Side of Chicago [where] there are massive disparities in people’s life outcomes and well-being.
But how to tease apart the causes?
“Consider two low-income African-American 50-year-old women in Chicago,” Ludwig says. “One lives in Hyde Park,” an integrated middle-class neighborhood, “and the other lives in Washington Park,” a nearby but extremely poor and racially segregated neighborhood.
We see that the woman living in Hyde Park has better health, Ludwig says, but is that due to the neighborhoods themselves or some difference between the women that led them to choose where to live? The only way to sort out cause and effect is to do a randomized trial, moving people around between neighborhoods and tracking their health over several years.
That is what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) did, and a team led by Ludwig has been analyzing the results.
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