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Your Childhood Neighborhood Affects If You Vote

HANOVER, N.H. – April 10, 2020 – Your childhood neighborhood affects whether you vote later in life according to a study by researchers at Dartmouth College and Carnegie Mellon University. The findings demonstrate that disadvantaged children, who moved from public housing with vouchers to higher opportunity neighborhoods, were 12 percent more likely to vote as adults.

Through a natural experiment, the research team examined the impact of public housing demolitions by the Chicago Housing Authority from 1995 to 2000. During this period, displaced families were given housing vouchers to relocate to neighborhoods that were both lower in crime and higher in income. The analysis focused on residents from 20 demolished buildings and 33 non-closed buildings that served as the comparison group. The study sample included just over 3,000 households with nearly 6,000 children, most of whom were living in extreme poverty.

The results revealed that displaced children were 13 to 16 percent more likely to vote in the presidential elections of 2008, 2012 and 2016, when compared to the non-displaced group children. This was in addition to the broader findings that displaced children are 12 percent more apt to vote in any election up to 2018. The increase in political participation was driven by new voters, as displaced children were 5 percent more likely to be registered, according to the study. The results are reported in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

“Prior research has examined how neighborhoods affect the voting behavior of adults; however, our study is one of the first, to provide evidence that moving to a higher opportunity neighborhood as a child may affect one’s political behavior as an adult,” said co-author Eric Chyn, an assistant professor in the department of economics at Dartmouth College, who co-authored the study with Kareem Haggag, an assistant professor in the social and decision sciences department at Carnegie Mellon University. “Our findings build on other work illustrating how success in life and opportunities for upward mobility may be affected by where you grow up as a child,” added Chyn.

As part of the analysis, Chyn and Haggag also considered how the long-run voting behavior of those who moved out of disadvantaged neighborhoods may have been mediated by effects on children’s other long-term outcomes such as education, labor market activity or socialization, as well as by whether their parents vote. While children who relocated to other neighborhoods were 16 percent less likely to be incarcerated as adults and their parents were more likely to be registered after moving, these factors did not appear to be responsible for the changes in voting. Rather, the authors conclude that the changes in voting behavior are likely to be explained by improvements in education, stronger labor market outcomes and political socialization.

The co-authors are available for comment at: eric.t.chyn@dartmouth.edu and kareem.haggag@cmu.edu.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: An ungated pdf of the paper is available here.