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Crowder, Kyle D. & South, Scott J. (2003). Neighborhood Distress and School Dropout: The Variable Significance of Community Context. Social Science Research, 32(4), 659-698.


Although a substantial body of recent research has examined the impact of neighborhood socioeconomic distress on youth socioeconomic attainment and urban social dislocations, few studies have determined under what conditions, and for what types of adolescents, neighborhood characteristics matter most. Drawing on theories of collective socialization, social capital, and social control, we develop hypotheses regarding the conditional nature of neighborhood effects on the risk of dropping out of high school, and we then test these hypotheses by estimating event history models based on data from the 1968–1993 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We find that, among African Americans, the detrimental impact of neighborhood socioeconomic distress on school dropout has increased significantly over the past quarter-century, a probable repercussion of the increasing geographic concentration of urban poverty. The negative effect of neighborhood distress on high school completion is particularly pronounced among black adolescents from single-parent households and among white adolescents from low-income families, results broadly consistent with Wilson’s claim that exposure to neighborhood poverty reinforces the damaging consequences of individual disadvantage. Supporting the social capital perspective, among both black and white adolescents the deleterious impact of neighborhood distress on school dropout is stronger for recent in-movers than for long-term residents. The impact of neighborhood disadvantage also varies significantly by gender for both racial groups and, among whites, is stronger for younger than older adolescents. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for theories of neighborhood effects.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Social Science Research


Crowder, Kyle D.
South, Scott J.