Study: Moving out of High-Poverty Area is Good for Your Health

    • April 12, 2004

Between 1994 and 1998, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted and evaluated a controlled, random-assignment housing relocation experiment called Moving To Opportunity. The purpose of the program was to determine the long-term impact of moving families from high-poverty to low-poverty communities.

Because the original evaluation did not include an examination of its health impacts, in 2001 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided funding to the evaluation team—led by Jeffrey Kling, PhD, of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs—to expand the evaluation to cover the health-related outcomes and well-being of children and adults.

Key Findings

  • Urban residents of high-poverty neighborhoods have a high prevalence of health problems.

  • There was a large and significant reduction in the prevalence of obesity in adults among both experimental and comparison families.

  • There were improvements in mental health among adults in the experimental group families:

    • A reduction in psychological distress.
    • A reduction in depression.
    • An increase in feelings of calm and peacefulness.
  • Among children, the significant effects of Moving To Opportunity on health were confined to mental health measures:

    • A moderately large reduction in psychological distress for girls in the experimental group.
    • A substantial decrease in the incidence of depression among girls in the comparison group.
    • Very large reductions in the incidence of generalized anxiety disorder among girls in both treatment groups.