Neighborhood Violence and Urban Youth
Research shows that early exposure to violence can lead to problems such as substance abuse and delinquency. However, studies have not always controlled for factors that could lead to the same results, such as poverty and low education levels. Whether or not exposure to violence is truly the chief factor explaining negative cognitive and behavioral outcomes for young people in urban settings has remained an area in need of further inquiry.
A 2009 paper from Brown University for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Neighborhood Violence and Urban Youth,” seeks to address this research gap by analyzing data from a variety of sources and attempting to isolate variables that govern outcomes.
The paper’s findings include:
- Once underlying factors such as poverty rates and education are controlled for, violence has less of an effect on children’s cognitive test scores and causes fewer behavior problems such as aggression and delinquency. This implies that underlying disadvantages explain “some of the negative outcomes observed, but not all.”
- Still, when the researchers controlled for underlying differences across families, the data show an increase in the effects of violence and their link to internalizing behavior problems.
- In addition, children in such settings often associate with violent peers, and “having violent peers (knowing a gang member) is negatively correlated with cognitive test scores.”
The researchers conclude that the findings have implications for public policy intended to reduce neighborhood violence: for example, enhanced law enforcement “may have limited impact on youth outcomes,” while housing subsidies that enable low-income families to move to less disadvantaged neighborhoods may be more effective.
Tags: children, crime, poverty, race, drugs, inequality, ethnicity and community, bullying
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the National Bureau of Economic Research study titled "Neighborhood Violence and Urban Youth."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Focus in Chicago: Students at Risk of Violence."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.