Abstract: Increasing evidence from experimental and non-experimental research has shown that children residing in low resource neighborhoods exhibit decreases reading and math scores, above and beyond individual characteristics, and family, or school contexts. However, the tendency to model family-school or family-neighborhood contexts limits our understanding of the processes affecting educational achievement and likely over-estimates direct neighborhood effects. Using the ECLS-K, a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of U.S. school children, longitudinal propensity scores, and several characterizations of residential neighborhoods, this study examined direct neighborhood effects on math (N = 8,630) and reading (N = 8,130) scores during elementary and middle school. This study also examined indirect neighborhood effects on children’s academic achievement through family and school contexts. Growth curve models indicated that neighborhood environments significantly affected reading and math scores, even after mitigating selection bias. Parallel multiple mediator models demonstrated that neighborhoods shape educational achievement through family and school contexts, but the nature and strength of the association vary as a function of the outcome. In addition, neighborhood influences change over childhood and adolescence, particularly for disadvantaged environments. These results suggest that research or policy should focus on the child, family, school, and neighborhood contexts, but the focus should shift over time to accommodate natural changes in development, autonomy, and the importance of non-familial environments.
*co-sponsored by the CU Population Center