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Considering the effect of economically mixed communities on children’s wellbeing

By Kyley Alderson, HC Link

On Thursday last week, I listened to a 20 minute webcast presentation by Candice Odgers from Duke University, as part of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Researched (CIFAR) event titled “Building Neighborhoods that Thrive.” Candice shared a few study results on the impact of economically mixed communities on children with low-income, and left us with a few thoughts to consider for future work. Here were some highlights for me:

  • Using data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, as well as community mapping, and resident surveys – they investigated the effect of living in an economically mixed community on a child’s wellbeing.

    • While there was not a statistical effect on girls, boys with low family income living in an economically mixed community (and presumably going to better schools) tended to have lower school performance and engage in more anti-social behaviour, compared to boys in a concentrated low-income neighborhood.

    • Results indicate it is not just about how much you have, but also how much you perceive you have – creating a double disadvantage for those who have less AND believe they have less in comparison to others. To this point, twins who come from the same household but perceive they have less compared to others, score lower on wellbeing than twins who perceive they have more.

    • High levels of collective efficacy in the community, as well as supportive parents, were protective factors to a child’s wellbeing (or factors that reduce disparities).

    • While this presentation did not get into details on this, factors such as perceived safety in an economically mixed community might play a role in the different effects observed between boys and girls on well-being.

Candice was very clear to say that this research does not indicate that communities should be segregated based on income, and mentioned that some efforts to create economically mixed communities have been very successful at reducing disparities. However, it is important to learn from the data and realize that if economically mixed communities are not properly supported, they may actually create more disparities.

One RECENT shocking example of the WRONG way to create such environments is a luxury residential building in Manhattan that created 55 low income units in their ritzy 33-story building. Upon moving in, residents that qualified for these low income units learned that they had a separate entrance to the building (including a separate address), were not permitted access to common areas in the building (such as the courtyard, pool, gyms, etc.) and lacked basic features to their room (such as light fixtures and a dishwasher).

snippetwebcastSnapshot taken of the live webcast.

Clearly this is no way to create a sense of belonging, or to engage with others in a safe and meaningful way. When efforts are made to create economically mixed communities (which has been one proposed way to improve the life outcomes of children growing up in poverty), or to look at reducing health disparities in existing mixed communities, we need to be very mindful of the potential consequences, and make sure that proper supports are in place to improve the well-being of all children (and adults).

For more information on this event and the presenters: https://www.cifar.ca/events/building-neighbourhoods-that-thrive/

 

 

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