Although the pace of gentrification has accelerated in cities across the U.S., little is known about the health consequences of growing up in gentrifying neighborhoods. Many observers worry that gentrification will destroy neighborhood cultures, increase both rents and the cost of daily living, and price long-term residents out of their communities—all of which could heighten stress and undermine children’s health. Yet gentrification may also bring changes to low-income areas that may enhance health. Kacie Dragan, Ingrid Ellen, and Sherry A. Glied, representing P4A’s NYU Wagner Research Hub, explore these issues in a new Health Affairs paper, focusing on children’s physical and mental health.
Using New York State’s Medicaid claims database, containing data for millions of enrollees, the team examined a cohort of low-income, New York City children born between 2006 and 2008 over a period of nine years. They compared 2017 health outcomes of children starting out in neighborhoods that gentrified between 2009 and 2015 with children starting out in neighborhoods that looked very similar at baseline but remained low income. The team examined the prevalence of overweight or obesity, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder, and anxiety or depression, as well as rates of emergency department visits and hospitalizations and proportions of children with at least one well-child visit in 2015–17.
Overall, the effects of gentrification on children by early adolescence were modest:
- Children starting out in areas that gentrified had a 1.6 percentage point higher prevalence rate of anxiety or depression diagnoses than did children who started off in low-socioeconomic status areas that did not gentrify.
- The experience of gentrification has no effects on children’s health system use or diagnoses of asthma or obesity.
Implications for Policy and Practice
The core results provide little evidence that gentrification dramatically altered the health status or health system use of children by ages 9–11. That said, the observed elevated anxiety and depression merit continued investigation as this cohort ages into later adolescence, when these conditions are more prevalent. And previous research suggests that neighborhood environments can have long-term effects on children, even when short-term impacts are not apparent. Neighborhood environments undoubtedly play a role in children’s health, but these largely null findings suggest that the relationship between neighborhood economic change and health may be more nuanced than is often assumed.