Working Paper Series

Race Differences in the Incidence & Duration of Exposure to Concentrated Poverty over the Life Cours


  • Rucker Johnson, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (December 2008)


This study is among the first to use nationally-representative data from the US to analyze
the persistence in neighborhood quality over the life course. The analysis utilizes the
Panel Study of Income Dynamics, spanning 1968-2005, and follows a cohort born
between 1951 and 1970 from childhood into adulthood. I examine the extent of upward
and downward residential mobility/instability from childhood through mid-adulthood
using PSID geocoded neighborhood information and residential location patterns over 35
years. Characterizing the length of exposure to poor neighborhood conditions for
different demographic groups also serves to shed light on the age-profile of neighborhood
effects on later-life attainments, including adult health and economic status.

The results highlight substantial race differences in the incidence and duration of
exposure to concentrated poverty over the life course. The study reveals high rates of
immobility from poor neighborhoods over the life course, especially among AfricanAmericans. The results demonstrate that the average black child spent ¼ of childhood years in high poverty neighborhoods, one-third of early-to-mid adulthood years in high
poverty neighborhoods, and fifteen percent of adulthood years lived in low poverty
neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to those rates for the average white child, who
spent just three percent of childhood and adulthood years in high poverty neighborhoods,
spent eighty percent of childhood years in low poverty neighborhoods, and more than
half of early-to-mid adulthood years in low poverty neighborhoods. The analysis shows
that black-white differences in adulthood exposure to neighborhood poverty are largely
accounted for by differences in the likelihood of being born into a poor neighborhood,
and to a lesser extent by differences in rates of upward and downward socioeconomic
mobility over the life course.

Download File

Download a PDF (73KB)