Faculty Research at Morehead State University


Rotten Outcomes: How Impoverished Neighborhoods Influence the Life Trajectories of Children in the United States


Paul D. Steele

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To use Lisbeth Schorr’s term, children who are at risk for “rotten outcomes” are not randomly scattered throughout the society but are, rather, concentrated in impoverished neighborhoods. In recent decades, government policy and public opinion in the U.S. has reflected the belief that children who experience rotten outcomes are, at least in large part, somehow responsible for their own problems. I assert that the social influences which the child experiences in their neighborhood of residence also influence their life outcomes in both direct and indirect ways. Neighborhoods are social environments where children experience life: presenting risks and opportunities, offering or withholding resources necessary for success, creating experiences with and beliefs about social institutions and their representatives, and providing the ecology in which children develop into adults. This article summarizes contemporary scholarly perspectives and unpublished research that describe how neighborhoods influence life outcomes for children. It adopts a social capital perspective in addressing the influence of neighborhood’s residents, places, and institutions on the child’s safety, health, and education, distinguishing between compositional and contextual neighborhood effects. It concludes that the life outcomes of children, be they successful or rotten, are influenced by their access to the resources of immediate family and peer social networks (bonding capital), connections to other residents and their networks (bridging capital), and relations with representatives of broader social institutions as manifested in their neighborhood (linking capital).