Neighborhood and community effects on individual behavior and social functioning.

Author:Jenson, Jeffrey M.
Position:EDITORIAL - Report

Since social work first began as a profession some 100 years ago, the influence of neighborhood and community conditions on individual behavior and social functioning has been a major concern of our profession. For example, pioneers such as Jane Addams argued that improving neighborhood conditions and enhancing economic opportunities were among the most promising strategies for ameliorating family conflict and child and adolescent behavior problems (Addams, 1912). Social scientists from other disciplines, most notably sociology, concurred with social work's emphasis on understanding, preventing, and treating neighborhood and community conditions that lead to poor social functioning. To illustrate, an early study by criminologists Shaw and McKay (1942) recognized the importance of neighborhood and community influences on juvenile delinquency in Chicago. The authors' careful mapping of delinquency rates in the city's neighborhoods during the 1930s identified neighborhood and community characteristics that fostered delinquent conduct. In subsequent years theorists such as Hirschi (1969) and Sampson (1993) advanced the idea that neighborhood and community context was essential to understanding and preventing antisocial behavior in young people. Studies by these and other investigators planted the seed for recent research aimed at understanding the effects of neighborhood and community conditions on individual and social behaviors.


In the past 15 years, research identifying neighborhood and community influences on child, adolescent, and adult outcomes has increased significantly. The renewed interest in neighborhoods and communities has resulted in at least two research directions. First, the interaction between individual--and community-level variables in the onset and persistence of behaviors such as substance abuse, crime, and violence has been examined with increasing frequency. This interest is illustrated by recent studies aimed at disentangling neighborhood effects from well-documented individual and family influences on antisocial conduct. For example, Elliott and colleagues (2006) examined how some children and adolescents raised in adverse neighborhoods in Chicago and Denver have overcome negative community influences and become successful in the face of considerable risk. Their study, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Network on Successful Adolescent Development...

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