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II. Explanations for the Neighborhood–Crime Link: Theory and Research
A. Social Disorganization Theory
B. Collective Efficacy Theory
III. How Neighborhoods Influence Delinquent and Criminal Behavior of Youth
The typical point of departure for understanding crime is to investigate differences between individuals to discern what characteristics distinguish offenders from nonoffenders, high-rate from low-rate offenders, and persistent from less persistent offenders. It is often the case that psychological, family, biological, social, and environmental factors are front-runners for explaining why people commit crimes. Reinforcing this type of thinking are the media and other news outlets, which often discuss how biological insults and family problems, among others, lead to a particular criminal’s behavioral patterns or explain why he or she committed a particular crime. Although much has been learned about why individuals offend, much has also been learned about the striking patterns of crime across geographical entities. As such, focusing only on the individual may not generate an extensive portrait of what explains crime. A neighborhood or community is one geographical example of place that can be considered an explanatory source of crime and is the focus of this research paper.
Dating back to the era of Burgess, Park, Shaw, and McKay of the Chicago School of sociology, communities and neighborhoods in the United States have been systematically studied for decades to understand how characteristics of areas within a city are correlated not only with crime but also with other social ills that tend to occur in the same areas. Since the early studies of the Chicago School, criminologists and sociologists have learned a tremendous amount about crime rates across neighborhoods, correlates of neighborhood crime, and even the offending behaviors of youth living in particular neighborhoods.
According to Sampson (2006, pp. 34–35), a consistent set of “neighborhood facts” have emerged over many decades of research on neighborhood conditions and crime. First, neighborhoods show much variation in terms of inequality. Research has shown that neighborhoods vary substantially in terms of their racial segregation and socioeconomic standing. In fact, neighborhoods that have the highest percentages of minorities are also often the poorest and most isolated neighborhoods. Second, it appears that many problems tend to co-occur in particular neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that have high levels of crime often face other problems, including juvenile delinquency, disorder, higher percentages of infant mortality and low birth weight, school dropout, and child abuse—the list goes on and on. Third, many studies have concluded that neighborhood inequality, segregation, and more generally concentrated disadvantage are often characteristic of neighborhoods with high rates of victimization and the problems mentioned earlier. Fourth, studies that have produced these correlations show consistent findings across various geographical areas investigated. For instance, a correlation between concentrated disadvantage (e.g., poverty and ethnic–racial segregation) and crime is found whether the unit of analysis is the community area, census tracts, police beats, or other classifications of “neighborhood.” Many of these research facts are the impetus for this research paper, and they will be used to further explore some of the mechanisms responsible for the link between neighborhoods and crime.
This research paper explores several of the “neighborhood facts” just mentioned by discussing theories that attempt to explain why crimes rates vary by neighborhoods or communities, research evidence on the specific correlates of crime across neighborhoods, and limitations of research and obstacles facing researchers who are attempting to explain the link between neighborhoods and crime. This research paper also discusses the evidence on how neighborhood contexts influence offending behaviors of adolescents, which are different from crime rates.
II. Explanations for the Neighborhood–Crime Link: Theory and Research
The notion that neighborhoods may have an influence, or at least something to do with, crime is not an innovative or even a new idea. It dates back to the early 19th century, when two Belgians, Guerry and Quetelet, found patterns of arrest in France to be distributed nonrandomly (Bierne, 1993). Guerry and Quetelet were also some of the first pioneers to discover an empirical link between regional crime rates and structural factors such as poverty rates and education levels. They observed that these relationships were persistent over periods of time. Although Guerry and Quetelet made one of the first empirical links between regional crime rates and social conditions, they did not offer a detailed theoretical explanation for their findings. This led to following two questions: (1) Why are crime rates higher in some places than others? and (2) what are the mechanisms that explain such patterns?
A. Social Disorganization Theory
One of the classic theories that attempt to make sense of the nonrandom, systematic pattern of crime in regions and cities originates not in Belgium but rather in Chicago and was generated by Shaw and McKay (1942) during the early 20th century when Chicago was experiencing tremendous growth. During its incorporation between the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the city’s population grew from a few thousand to more than 2 million. This growth was attributable to both the creation of large industries and the arrival of immigrants from European countries (Palen, 1981). With this growth came disorder and crime.
Relying on several existing ideas from social ecology, Shaw and McKay’s (1942) classic formulation of social disorganization theory was created to explain crime in places, specifically Chicago neighborhoods. As opposed to being a theory of individual involvement in crime and delinquency, their theory attempts to explain what makes a neighborhood crime prone. Through mapping juvenile delinquency data on the residential locations of youth referred to juvenile court, Shaw and McKay made several observations regarding neighborhoods and the distribution of crime in Chicago. First, they found a systematic trend in the distribution of delinquency in Chicago; that is, delinquency rates were the highest in lower-class neighborhoods, which were adjacent to areas with industry that had many damned buildings. These lower-class neighborhoods consisted of large percentages of families receiving public assistance and low percentages of families owning homes. These same areas had some of the highest rates of physical decay, infant mortality, prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, and tuberculosis. Second, over many decades, Shaw and McKay observed that these neighborhoods continued to sustain high amounts of delinquency and high crime rates, while their racial and ethnic compositions changed substantially. Although a correlation existed between delinquency rates of neighborhoods and concentrations of foreign-born and African American heads of households, Shaw and McKay did not conclude that African Americans or immigrants were any more likely than whites to engage in crime. In fact, they came to the following conclusion:
In the face of these facts it is difficult to sustain the contention that, by themselves, the factors of race, nativity, and nationality are vitally related to the problem of juvenile delinquency. It seems necessary to conclude, rather, that the significantly higher rates of delinquency found among the children of Negroes, the foreign born and more recent immigrants are closely related to existing differences in their respective pattern of geographical distribution within the city. (p. 145)
This suggests that the neighborhood conditions triumphed over individual differences as factors that explain why people commit crime.
In their formulation of social disorganization theory, Shaw and McKay (1942) relied heavily on Park and Burgess’s (1925) theory of human ecology to understand why delinquency and crime patterns surfaced as they did in Chicago. Park and Burgess described Chicago as consisting of various concentric zones (Zones 1–5), whereby each zone gradually invaded and dominated its nearest zones, with an overall growth outward. Zone 1 is the central business district and the innermost layer of the city. Zone 2, also referred to as the zone in transition, is considered the oldest segment of the city that has experienced the most invasion, dominance, and succession. This zone was observed to be not only the poorest area of Chicago but also the least desirable area to live. Shaw and McKay found some of the highest rates of delinquency and crime, as well as several other social ills mentioned earlier, in this particular zone. Zone 3, the working-class zone, consists of humble homes and rentals largely occupied by people who escaped the poverty-stricken conditions of zone 2 (i.e., the zone in transition). Zones 4 and 5 consist of nicer housing and suburbs, respectively.
Shaw and McKay (1942) interpreted their observations to be a consequence of socially disorganized areas that undermine the control of social disorder and crime. They argued that socially disorganized areas are not able to realize the common values of their residents or reach decisions on how to handle community problems, largely because of a lack of communication and shared values. They identified three indirect indicators of social disorganization: (1) residential instability, (2) poverty, and (3) ethnic–racial heterogeneity, which they argued are highly correlated; that is, areas with higher concentrations of one also have higher rates of the others. First, neighborhoods that have high residential instability have high population turnover whereby individuals move in and out rapidly. Such instability leads to little investment in the community by residents in that they do not care about the neighborhood’s appearance or betterment. Also, such high turnover fails to provide residents time to get to know one another, resulting in a decreased sense of neighborliness and failure to recognize their neighbors’ children. When out of sight of their primary caregivers, children in such neighborhoods are likely to be under minimal control. Second, although we think of diversity as a good thing these days, ethnic– racial heterogeneity was not seen in Chicago as something good, at least as far as crime was concerned. Racial and ethnic heterogeneity suggests that a neighborhood is populated with diverse races, languages, and cultures, thus creating barriers that isolate groups from one another, which puts limitations on meaningful interactions that could promote shared community values and goals. In socially disorganized neighborhoods, different racial and ethnic groups were known for isolating themselves and having minimal interactions with one another and, as such, lines of communication decreased and disorganization was thought to have increased. Finally, poverty-stricken neighborhoods have insufficient resources, which makes it almost impossible for them to deal with community problems.
A major limitation of Shaw and McKay’s (1942) research is that it fell short of permitting them to draw conclusions about how social disorganization related to crime, because they were able to measure social disorganization only by using proxies. Their measures of this concept were limited to the indirect structural aspects of neighborhoods (e.g., poverty and residential instability). Only in theory were they able to state that social disorganization was the force behind the relationships between structural aspects of neighborhoods and crime. Acknowledging this shortcoming, Sampson and Groves (1989) stated that “while past researchers have examined Shaw and McKay’s predictions concerning community change and extra-local influences on delinquency, no one has directly tested their theory of social disorganization” (p. 175).
Starting roughly in the 1970s, social disorganization experienced a revival, both theoretically and empirically, from criminologists and sociologists alike who desired to further explain the pieces of the puzzle that were left undone by Shaw and McKay’s (1942) work (see Bursik, 1988; Bursik & Grasmick, 1993; Duncan & Raudenbush, 2001; Jencks & Mayer, 1990; Kornhauser, 1978; Sampson & Groves, 1989; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Sampson, Morenoff, & Raudenbush, 2005). Researchers have since filled many gaps by actually measuring and assessing the impact of social disorganization. They have done this by using more advanced research methods and collecting more appropriate data to thoroughly test the propositions from social disorganization theory that were not originally tested.
Sampson and Groves (1989) were among the first to acknowledge that Shaw and McKay (1942) did not sufficiently articulate the differences among social disorganization, its causes, and its consequences. Sampson and Groves defined social disorganization as the inability of a neighborhood to achieve common goals of its residents and maintain effective social controls. They developed and tested a model of social disorganization that proposed several hypotheses, one of which consisted of indirect effects of neighborhood structural characteristics on crime. They proposed that structural characteristics (e.g., residential instability, poverty, family disruption, and ethnic–racial heterogeneity) lead to neighborhood social disorganization, which in turn predicts crime. They identified three indicators of social disorganization: (1) weak local friendship networks, (2) low organizational participation, and (3) unsupervised teenage groups. This was an improvement from early social disorganization studies, because social disorganization was closer to being measured and its effects on crime were closer to being estimated. Sampson and Groves used self-report crime and victimization data from individuals residing within neighborhoods, overcoming the problems inherent in Shaw and McKay’s use of official crime data. Using data from the British Crime Survey on 238 neighborhoods in England and Wales, they found support for social disorganization theory: Crime rates were higher in neighborhoods where friendship ties were weak, organizational participation was low, and teen groups were unsupervised. Furthermore, their social disorganization variables largely mediated the effects of structural characteristics on crime. This study was replicated a decade later, and the results were highly consistent with those found in the original study (Lowencamp, Cullen, & Pratt, 2003).
B. Collective Efficacy Theory
In what is probably the most advanced statement to date in the social disorganization tradition of explaining the link between neighborhoods and crime, Sampson and colleagues (1997) put forth a model that has come to be known as collective efficacy theory. In this formulation, they developed a concept that they termed collective efficacy and argued that it can explain not only the link between structural conditions of neighborhoods and crime rates but also the general well-being of a neighborhood.
Collective efficacy, Sampson and colleagues (1997) argued, is more than just social ties, personal ties, or social networks within neighborhoods. Although networks are important, they must be activated before they are meaningful in assisting with neighborhood problems. Thus, according to Sampson (2006), “Social networks foster the conditions under which collective efficacy may flourish, but they are not sufficient for the exercise of control” (p. 39) So then, what is collective efficacy, and how can levels of it be measured across neighborhoods?
Collective efficacy is defined as social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good of the neighborhood. Although this does depend on a working trust among neighbors and social interactions, according to Sampson (2006), it is not a requirement that neighbors befriend one another or that they be friends with local police officers. Sampson and colleagues (1997) developed a measure of this concept that taps into social cohesion, informal social control, and trust among neighbors. The social cohesion and trust component of the measure taps into community relationships and was captured by several survey questions that were asked of residents of various Chicago neighborhoods selected for participation in the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), known as one of the most ambitious and costly criminological studies on neighborhoods in the history of social science. For example, residents were asked if they agreed to the following statements: “People around here can be trusted”; “This is a close-knit neighborhood”; “People around here are willing to help their neighbors”; and “People in this neighborhood share the same values.” The other component of collective efficacy, which captures shared expectations regarding neighborhood social control, was measured using five survey questions asked of residents that included how likely it was that their neighbor could be counted on if children were skipping school and hanging out on a street corner, children were spray-painting graffiti on the side of a building, children were showing disrespect to an adult, a fight broke out in front of their house, and the fire station closest to their home was threatened with budget cuts. These measures of social cohesion/trust and informal social control were so highly correlated that they were summed to form one measure of collective efficacy and then aggregated up to the neighborhood level to reflect the level of collective efficacy for each Chicago neighborhood.
In their theory of collective efficacy, Sampson and colleagues (1997) suggested that the structural conditions of neighborhoods (e.g., poverty, residential instability) do not directly explain crime and that the mediating mechanism is collective efficacy. They argued that a central objective of a neighborhood is the neighborhood residents’ desire to live in safe, crime-free environments where informal social control is practiced to maintain order. For this to occur, groups of neighborhood residents must regulate their members by developing clear rules and collective goals for the neighborhood. Residents must develop relationships and trust among one another. Sampson et al. argued that when a neighborhood’s residents have a high degree of trust among one another, social cohesion, and practice informal social controls, then both social disorder and crime will be less likely to occur.
Sampson et al. (1997) tested their theory of collective efficacy by analyzing data on 343 Chicago neighborhoods and thousands of residents. These data were collected as part of the PHDCN. They were able to estimate the effects of neighborhood-level structural characteristics (concentrated disadvantage, residential stability, and immigrant concentration) and social processes (i.e., collective efficacy) simultaneously on multiple measures of violence while considering individual characteristics of neighborhood residents (e.g., race, age, mobility, socioeconomic status). To date, this has been one of the most methodologically sophisticated studies on neighborhoods and crime. This research offers several important observations. First, structural characteristics explained a large amount of variability in collective efficacy across Chicago neighborhoods. Second, collective efficacy was found to have an important effect on violence, regardless of structural characteristics and controls for individual characteristics of residents within neighborhoods. Third, neighborhood collective efficacy largely reduced the influence of neighborhood disadvantage on violence, something that is also referred to as a mediating effect.
Collective efficacy’s influence in neighborhoods reaches further than just understanding violence. More recently, neighborhood collective efficacy has been shown to partially explain the relationship between disorder and crime in neighborhoods. Ever since the dissemination of broken windows theory—that minor crime, if left unattended, will breed larger, more serious crimes—scholars have argued that disorder within a neighborhood leads to crime. Police have thus directed much of their attention to fighting disorder in the hopes of preventing more serious forms of crime from developing. Sampson and colleagues (2002) recently argued that the relationship between disorder and crime is not causal; instead, they both have the same underlying causes, one of which is collective efficacy. Analyzing data from the PHDCN again, they found that the relationship between disorder, measured through direct observations on street blocks, and crime could be explained by the levels of poverty and collective efficacy in neighborhoods.
III. How Neighborhoods Influence Delinquent and Criminal Behavior of Youth
We now know that social scientists have been intrigued by the association between neighborhood characteristics and crime rates, and how people are affected by the neighborhoods in which they live, for nearly a century. In summary, research has shown that disorganized and disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to have residents that are less bonded to one another, have limited social networks, lack resources, and tend not to engender mutual trust among one other. In such neighborhoods, residents are less willing to act as informal social control agents to rise up and deal with neighborhood problems (Sampson et al., 1997; Sampson, Morenoff, & Earls, 1999) and are thus unlikely to take action when problems such as crime or juvenile delinquency occur. Beyond crime rates, one area within the social disorganization model receiving attention at present is how neighborhood-level factors influence outcomes for children and adolescents (see Sampson, Morenoff, & Gannon-Rowley, 2002).
Recent research has focused on how neighborhood structure can affect child development, specifically, how it leads adolescents to be more frequently involved with crime and delinquency. Children raised in areas of extremely low levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and inequality are at risk for developing a host of negative outcomes that can further increase their likelihood of participating in criminal activity. Children raised under such conditions are at risk for dropping out of school, lower school achievement, decreased verbal ability, and many other problems (see Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Although researchers have found a link between structural disadvantage of neighborhoods and negative child and adolescent outcomes, until recently the mechanisms for why these relationships exist had yet to be thoroughly explored. Various models have been put forth that may shed light on how neighborhood context can influence children’s involvement in crime and delinquency.
frameworks for linking individual behavioral outcomes for children and adolescents to the neighborhoods in which they are raised. First, they identified what they called the neighborhood institutional resource models, whereby neighborhood resources are believed to affect children and adolescents through access to resources such as parks and libraries, as well as community service centers that promote positive, healthy development. Second, they discussed the contagion model, which focuses on problem behaviors and is based on the idea that negative behaviors of peers and/or neighbors can quickly spread throughout a neighborhood, thus affecting children and adolescents. Third, they described a competition model, which suggests that neighbors compete with one another for scarce community resources, which in turn can lead to negative behaviors of children and adolescents. Fourth, they noted a relative deprivation model, which hypothesizes that neighborhood conditions and surroundings affect children and adolescents by means of their evaluation of their situation vis-a-vis others in the neighborhood. Fifth and finally, they described a collective socialization model, which suggests that neighborhoods influence children and adolescents through community social organization; control; and collective efficacy, including the presence of adult role models and social control agents who, in addition to structuring routines and opportunities in the neighborhood, supervise and monitor children and adolescents in the neighborhood.
Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn (2000) proposed three of their own potential mechanisms by which neighborhoods can influence children. These mechanisms often overlap those described by Jencks and Mayer (1990). The first mechanism is institutional resources, the availability of affordable and accessible recreational activities, medical facilities, employment, schooling, and child care for residents of the community. The second mechanism is relationships, whereby parental characteristics, such as their mental and physical health, parenting skills, and home life, affect a child. The third mechanism is norms/collective efficacy, which focuses on the supervision and monitoring of the behavior or residents within the community (mostly of youth for activities and deviant or antisocial peer group behaviors and physical risk, e.g., violence and victimization). Stressful neighborhood environments cause parents to employ parenting behaviors that adversely affect children’s behavior and learning. Prosperous neighborhoods may have more institutional resources that are conducive to child and adolescent well-being, such as learning, social, and recreational activities and quality child care and schools.
Extending beyond the somewhat overlapping neighborhood mechanisms offered by Jencks and Mayer (1990) and Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn (2000), Akers (1998) offered the social structure social learning (SSSL) model to explain the link between neighborhood social disorganization and children’s delinquent and criminal involvement. According to Akers, children and adolescents learn conforming behaviors through association with others, observation of others, and exposure to others. Similarly, this is also how children and adolescents learn to engage in criminal and delinquent behaviors. Whereas learning theory has been tested and supported through many empirical studies, far less evidence has been put forth regarding Akers’s newest formulation of how neighborhood structure and delinquency are linked through the social learning process. In putting forth the SSSL model of crime, Akers (1998) made the following proposition:
Social learning is the primary process linking social structure to individual behavior. Its main proposition is that variations in the social structure, culture, and locations of individuals and groups in the social system explain variables in crime rates, principally through their influence on differences among individuals on the social learning variables—mainly, differential association, differential reinforcement, imitation, and definitions favorable and unfavorable and other discriminative stimuli for crime. (p. 322)
Akers (1998) argued that social learning should largely mediate the link between structural and social conditions of neighborhoods and youth involvement in delinquency and violence. According to Akers, neighborhood social disorganization leads to children and adolescents engaging in delinquency by means of increased associations with delinquent peers, more positive reinforcement for engaging in delinquent behaviors, exposure to more favorable attitudes toward delinquent behavior, and more delinquent models to imitate. To this end, very few studies have empirically assessed propositions from Akers’s SSSL model, and with few exceptions (Haynie, Silver, & Teasdale, 2006) they have largely neglected how peer associations of children and adolescents can mediate the effect neighborhood conditions may have on delinquent behavior. Although Akers’s model should not be viewed as competing against these other models, it should be seen as an additional piece of the theoretical puzzle that can help us understand why children residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods are at risk for engaging in more delinquency and crime.
The goal of this research paper was to provide an introductory overview of the link between neighborhoods and crime. First, several neighborhood facts were discussed that have been confirmed by years of research on neighborhoods and their social conditions. Second, some of these facts, such as the link between neighborhood structural conditions and crime, were discussed from theoretical perspectives. Specifically, social disorganization and collective efficacy theory were introduced as key theoretical explanations for the link between neighborhood structural conditions and crime. Research support for both of these theories was discussed, and various theoretical perspectives on how neighborhood contexts in which children grow up can influence their involvement in delinquent and criminal behaviors were discussed. This final section discusses various limitations and some future directions for research on neighborhoods and crime.
As described earlier, many advances have been made in the arena of neighborhood research since the early discoveries of Guerry and Quetelet, the Belgian researchers who discovered correlations between regional crime rates and social factors in France during the 1800s. Starting with Shaw and McKay’s (1942) findings and theory to the most recent advances by Sampson and his colleagues (e.g., Sampson & Groves, 1989), we know much more today about neighborhood influences on crime than we did a century ago. Nonetheless, several obstacles stand in the path of understanding the impact and reaching effects of neighborhood conditions on crime and how to prevent crime in neighborhoods.
First, one of the most important obstacles facing neighborhood research is the issue of selection bias. To understand the effect of any neighborhood influence on crime, research must be able to account for the types of families and adolescents living in those neighborhoods, because families are not randomly assigned to live in a particular neighborhood. Instead, they often choose which neighborhoods they live in; some have limited choices as to the neighborhoods in which they can afford to live. This poses the following questions: How do we truly know that neighborhood-level differences in crime rates are the consequences of neighborhood level factors, such as collective efficacy? Could differential crime rates be attributed to the types of families and children who live in those neighborhoods and not the neighborhood conditions themselves? Some recent research carried out in large cities such as Boston and New York has attempted to address this issue by moving families and their children from high-poverty neighborhoods to lower poverty neighborhoods. This is known as the Moving to Opportunity study (Goering & Feins, 2003). It has been able to address the issue of selection bias because families were randomly assigned to live in various neighborhoods. In general, the study has found that families who moved to lower poverty areas had more positive outcomes, especially in the children’s problem behaviors; however, these effects are not totally consistent across sites. As Sampson (2006) pointed out, however, the Moving to Opportunity study does not address the causal effects of neighborhood conditions on crime rates. For this to be accomplished, a researcher would need to randomly assign treatments or programs to neighborhoods and then assess how the crime rates change over time while comparing the treated neighborhoods with those that did not receive treatment.
Second, many neighborhood-level factors have been discovered that help us understand crime within and between neighborhoods, but less is known about how to use this research in a way that will reduce neighborhood crime rates. For instance, it appears that collective efficacy is a very important correlate of crime. In fact, Pratt and Cullen (2005) conducted a recent review of 200 studies on macrolevel predictors of crime. They discovered that collective efficacy ranked fourth in the mix of factors that were important for explaining crime rates. Although we now know that collective efficacy is an important neighborhood- level influence, what we do not know is how a neighborhood without collective efficacy can achieve it. Few, if any studies, have explicitly focused on increasing collective efficacy at the neighborhood level.
Third, although we now know considerably more about how crime rates are influenced by structural and social conditions of neighborhoods, less is known about how neighborhood contexts influence the development of children and adolescents in terms of their delinquent behavior. This is largely because scholars do not have the required data and methodological sophistication to analyze many children and their families from various neighborhoods in a city. Such a study would require an amazing amount of resources and money. However, now studies are under way, and some (e.g., the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods) have even been completed. These types of studies (i.e., that assess how neighborhood conditions influence the behavior of children and adolescents) are becoming important developments in the research literature.
As for neighborhood contextual influences on delinquent and offending behaviors of youth, several scholars (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Wikström & Sampson, 2003) have outlined key areas for further improvement and expansion of the understanding of mechanisms by which neighborhood conditions may lead to adverse outcomes for children. They argue that the reasons why neighborhood characteristics impact developmental and behavioral outcomes are important areas of inquiry currently lacking a substantial empirical base. Their recommendations are very similar. First, they propose that community organization and socialization are likely more important than structural aspects of neighborhoods (e.g., concentrated disadvantage, residential instability). An important candidate in this arena is child-based collective efficacy (Sampson et al., 1999), which consists of the willingness of residents to share responsibility for children and is largely contingent on conditions of mutual trust and shared expectations between residents. These characteristics include intergenerational closure, reciprocal exchange, and child-centered social control, which together represent neighborhood aspects of child rearing or collective efficacy for children (see Sampson et al., 1999).
According to Sampson et al. (1999), intergenerational closure indicates the closeness of parents and children within a community, and it is argued that this closeness is important for neighborhood control of children beyond parental child-rearing practices and monitoring in that it provides social support for children and information to parents and helps in facilitating control. For instance, examples of such questions include whether there are adults whom children can look up to in the neighborhood and adults in the neighborhood who can be counted on to watch that children are safe and do not get into trouble. Reciprocal exchange is the interaction of families with respect to child rearing (both parent and children); such exchanges can involve giving advice, material goods, and information about child rearing. For example, questions may include: How often do people in the neighborhood do favors for each other? How often do people in the neighborhood visit in each other’s homes or on the street? Child-centered social control relates to the collective willingness of residents to intervene on behalf of children in the neighborhood, and it represents a neighborhood’s willingness to take action to help monitor and look after children. In studies of child-centered social control, residents are asked whether their neighbors would do something if youth were skipping school and hanging out, spray-painting graffiti, or showing disrespect to an adult.
In their review of neighborhood influences and youth development, Wikstr0m and Sampson (2003) argued that the development of criminal propensities is partially influenced by community socialization and that this impact is due to the level of collective efficacy present in the neighborhood. Collective efficacy is likely related to the frequency in which children experience behavioral settings that are not conducive to prosocial development. Specifically, children living in neighborhoods that are low in child-based collective efficacy might be expected to frequently encounter behavioral settings that provide less parental support and fewer positive role models. Wikstrom and Sampson also indicated that neighborhoods can exert a direct effect on child and adolescent development. Finally, both Sampson et al. (1999) and Wikstrom and Sampson agree that a lack of empirical evidence prevents researchers from drawing any conclusions as to which theoretical models are most important, which, at present, limits the advancement of a contextual model of neighborhood influences on children.
Researchers have yet to determine whether neighborhood structural and social processes interact with children’s personal attributes to ameliorate or amplify their involvement in delinquency, the age of onset of delinquency, the frequency in which they engage in delinquency, and whether they persist in delinquency and crime. These are issues that are still being theoretically developed and lack systematic research. Only with time; many resources; the correct methodological designs; appropriate analytic strategies; and quality data on neighborhoods, crime, and youth will these complex issues regarding the link between neighborhoods and crime be adequately addressed.
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