Neighborhood Disadvantage and It’s Impact on Adolescent Development

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In this paper I am going to be exploring neighborhood disadvantage and its impact on adolescent development using an ecological-developmental framework. Specifically, I will focus on neighborhood disadvantage through the dimensions of poverty, cultural heterogeneity, and residential instability, while exploring how these factors impact adolescent development. Through this transactional model, pioneered by Urie Bronfenbrenner, it is determined that one’s environment impacts their development and vice versa. As such, neighborhood disadvantage influences adolescent behavior and development through direct and indirect ways. In some instances the behavior is determined by the environment and in others, the environment is determined by the behavior. This is especially important to consider within the context of a neighborhood where an individual is simultaneously shaping and being shaped by their community.

Neighborhood disadvantage is often misconceptualized as simply poverty. Although, poverty and socio-economic status represent important factors of neighborhood disadvantage, there are many other factors that are equally important to consider. It’s also important to remember that the concept of neighborhood disadvantage is multi dimensional. Thus, each of the aforementioned factors interacts with each other in myriad ways. Of course it is also important to acknowledge that a significant number of people grow up in disadvantaged neighborhoods and live successful, adaptive lives. As such, neighborhood disadvantage will not always result in maladaptivity on behalf of the individual. The ecological-developmental framework illustrates how each of these factors works as a mediator when considering both the environment and potential maladaptation.

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Importance of Adolescence

Adolescence occurs roughly during the ages of 10-19 and involves significant physical, psychological, and psychosocial changes. This period acts as an integral link between childhood and adulthood. This stage of development is marked by the start of puberty, which is responsible for rapid physical changes. Adolescence also brings a new wave of “sensitive periods” in which the brain is at peak plasticity. These periods aid development by promoting the creation of new neurological pathways, which can lead to significant psychological transitions. These physical and psychological changes interact to shape an individual’s familial, social, and institutional relationships. Although these developmental changes may bring new opportunities, they may also present new risks (TEXTBOOK).

What is a Neighborhood and How Does it Impact Adolesence?

This dichotomy of risks and opportunities is no better illustrated than through the concept of a neighborhood. Within the ecological framework, one’s environment, or neighborhood, can serve as either a protective or risk factor depending on the context. Specifically, disadvantaged neighborhoods are a risk factor for poor mental and physical health outcomes during the lifespan. Neighborhood disadvantage is broadly categorized by high rates of unemployment, cultural heterogeneity, population turnover, family composition, neighborhood violence, and a lack of institutional resources (ELLIOT 1996).

Although the objective quality of one’s neighborhood has a direct impact on their immediate well-being, it is especially important during the period of adolescence. Studies suggest that adolescents spend more of their time interacting with others in the areas outside of their homes compared to other periods during the lifespan. Moreover, because of the aforementioned changes occurring during this developmental period, adolescents have a greater need for a cohesive identity. The impact of neighborhood on identity formation may be greater during this period and may even lead adolescents to identifying with the specific environment of their neighborhoods (Boardman and Onge 2005). These factors illustrate how neighborhood may be particularly important during adolescent development. (Boardman and Onge 2005)


The effects of a neighborhood on one’s development can be exacerbated in disadvantaged communities. This is especially true among individuals who lack the resources to move out of them. (SOCIAL MOBILITY ARTICLE). Lower socio-economic status has been shown to be a risk factor for mental illness. As such, mental and emotional disorders are often concentrated among disadvantaged communities (Aneshensel and Clea A. Sucoff 1996). Moreover, adolescence often marks the etiological origins from which mental and emotional disorders develop. As such, it is particularly important when considering the effects of neighborhood disadvantage to the development of mental and emotion disorders among adolescents.

A disadvantaged neighborhood can be broken down as both a broad social structure and an individual’s experiential reality living within it. As such one’s experiences living in a disadvantaged neighborhood combine the social decay, poverty, and crime within a neighborhood and an individual’s perception of those factors. For example, disadvantaged neighborhoods are often perceived as threatening. Although in many cases these neighborhoods actually have higher levels of crime and violence, just the perception of these factors can lead to poor mental health outcomes. BLANK found that the more the subjective the art of the neighborhood, the more likely an individual experienced the symptoms of depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder (Carol S. Aneshensel and Clea A. Sucoff 1996). Moreover, they found that social cohesion was only a mediator for depression. As such, even if the presence of high social-cohesion, a disadvantaged neighborhood could still negatively impact an adolescent’s mental health in a number of ways. High S.E.S. neighbors were shown to have a positive effect on school readiness and achievement outcomes. Moreover, they speculated that race served as a moderator, finding that the benefit of neighborhood affluence was more salient for white Americans than for Black Americans.

Disadvantaged neighborhoods, and neighborhoods in general, act as a collective form of socialization. In this context, the shared monitoring and supervision of adolescent behavior may shape healthy adolescent development (Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn 2000). Moreover, families living in economically deprived communities may face a number of disadvantages, which impact their ability to socialize their children into the greater societal framework. The general absence of greater institutional resources for children growing up in these areas may add to the inconsistent supervision, inconsistent rule enforcement, and inconsistent discipline they receive. As a result of both community and family socialization practices, children may not develop the same executive functions as children from more affluent communities (Hart et al. 2008). These factors may impact adolescent development as individuals who do not receive adequate socialization from their parents are more susceptible to be socialized through their neighborhoods.

Cultural Heterogeneity

Although there exists a clear effect of poverty on development, other dimensions of disadvantaged neighborhoods can exacerbate these effects. One major dimension with the potential to exacerbate these effects is cultural heterogeneity. Simply defined, cultural heterogeneity refers to the presence of diverse cultural populations. Although one make think of cultural diversity as an organizational success, some may argue that this may not be a good thing. It was found that neighborhoods without a cohesive cultural identity lacked both institutional presence and support for conventional behavior. This is thought to be because the presence of many races and cultures creates diversity in values and norms.. For example some cultures promote success in school, while others might promote individual autonomy. The diversity of these values and norms can lead to discrepancies over what is acceptable and successful in a society. Some argue that the same processes can also lead to moral diversity. Members of these neighborhoods feel less trusting towards their neighbors, describe lower levels of cohesion and support, and report more parenting challenges (Furstenburg, 1993; Sampson, 1993). Moreover, this lack of cohesive identity may lead to community members who are less inclined to collectively monitor and punish criminality within the context of the neighborhood. As such, these conditions can foster adolescent aggression and criminality.

Residential Instability

Disadvantaged neighborhoods are often categorized by high population turnover and residential instability. Nighborhoods with high population turnover are unlikely to develop a sense of community. This can be exacerbated by an abundance of rental properties, which can further reduce the investment in neighborhood improvement. Residentially unstable neighborhoods have comparatively fewer capable guardians of youth activities than more stable neighborhoods. The insufficiency of collective resources for supervision is further accentuated when considered against the backdrop of physical characteristics of residentially unstable neighborhoods posing an additional challenge for effective supervision. In short, three aspects associated with residential instability (reduced trust and connection among neighbors, diminished incentive to participate in neighborhood revitalization, and scarce resources for collective supervision) might explain the effect of residentially unstable neighborhood on youth gang affiliation (Dupéré & Éric Lacourse 2007).

Delinquent behavior and adolescent gang affiliation may also come as a result of high rates of population turnover and renter-occupied residences. Similarly, this high rate of residential instaibilty leads to acommunity without a cohesive identity. As such, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are characterized by low levels of adult supervision and a greater need for elements of a community. Without these elements, many adolescents turn to gangs. Gangs prey on vulnerable adolescents who lack the personal and institutional resources to overcome their neighborhoods deficiencies. These gangs are developmentally maladaptive as they essentially force adolescents into adulthood. These Adolescents in gangs are more likely to engage in violence, XYZ. Interestingly, one study found that residential instability contributed to adolescent gang affiliation, where neighborhood economic disadvantage did not (Dupéré & Éric Lacourse 2007).

Externalizing Problems

Neighborhood disadvantage has been associated concurrently with externalizing problems, with typically modest associations in childhood and stronger associations emerging consistently in early adolescent samples (Beyers, Bates, Pettit, & Dodge, Although less consistent, the researchers also found that S.E.S had an affect on adolescent’s mental health. They found that this was more so with externalizing behaviors such as acting out and being aggressive than internalizing behaviors such as depression.


During adolescence, individuals have higher rates of impulsivity. However, research suggests that there is an association between impulsivity and violence among adolescents in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Violence in disadvantaged neighborhood can be prevalent and adolescents who witness violence in their neighborhood are more likely to see these behaviors as viable and may engage in these behaviors themselves. By increasing exposure, neighborhood disadvantage may facilitate an interest in adolescent gang affiliation. This reasoning follows the theoretical perspectives on crime and delinquency, which proposes that individual propensity for crime is more likely to translate into actual criminal behavior for those exposed to crime prone environments (Dupéré & Éric Lacourse 2007).

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Neighborhood Disadvantage and It’s Impact on Adolescent Development. (2022, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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