Journal of Abnormal Psychology
2012, Vol. 121, No. 1, 95–108

© 2011 American Psychological Association
0021-843X/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0025078

A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of the Influence of Neighborhood
Disadvantage on Child and Adolescent Conduct Problems
Jackson A. Goodnight

Benjamin B. Lahey

University of Dayton

University of Chicago

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

Carol A. Van Hulle

Joseph L. Rodgers

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Oklahoma

Paul J. Rathouz

Irwin D. Waldman

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Emory University

Brian M. D’Onofrio
Indiana University
A quasi-experimental comparison of cousins differentially exposed to levels of neighborhood disadvantage (ND) was used with extensive measured covariates to test the hypothesis that neighborhood risk has
independent effects on youth conduct problems (CPs). Multilevel analyses were based on mother-rated
ND and both mother-reported CPs across 4 –13 years (n 7,077) and youth-reported CPs across 10 –13
years (n
4,524) from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. ND was robustly
related to CPs reported by both informants when controlling for both measured risk factors that are
correlated with ND and unmeasured confounds. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that
ND has influence on conduct problems.
Keywords: neighborhoods, quasi-experiments, cousin comparisons, conduct problems, delinquency

several reasons. One possibility is that environmental factors
inherent in such high-risk neighborhoods exert causal influences on conduct problems (CPs). Another possibility is that
individual- and family level factors that are correlated with neighborhood disadvantage (ND), such as inadequate parental supervision and low family income, actually cause increased risk for CPs, with the relation between ND and youth CPs being noncausal. At present, the existing research literature does not clearly support either of these alternative explanations more than the other. This is an important shortcoming, as determining whether ND is a causal risk factor for CPs or only a spurious correlate would have major implications for prevention science and public policy (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

Children growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods characterized by poverty, low levels of social organization and cohesion, and high levels of residential instability and crime are at increased risk for a host of negative outcomes, including academic failure, depression and anxiety, teenage pregnancy,
and conduct problems (Harding, 2003; Leventhal & BrooksGunn, 2000; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997). These children may experience increased risk for these outcomes for

This article was published Online First September 26, 2011.
Jackson A. Goodnight, Department of Psychology, University of Dayton; Benjamin B. Lahey, Department of Health Sciences, University of Chicago; Carol A. Van Hulle, Waisman Center, University of WisconsinMadison; Joseph L. Rodgers, Department of Psychology, University of Oklahoma; Paul J. Rathouz, Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; Irwin D. Waldman, Department of Psychology, Emory University;
Brian M. D’Onofrio, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University.
This research was supported by grants R01-MH070025 and R01HD061384 to Benjamin B. Lahey. The research was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Indiana University and the University of
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jackson A. Goodnight, Department of Psychology, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-1430. E-mail:

Factors Associated With the Magnitude of
Correlations With Neighborhood Characteristics
A review of regional and national studies found that ND is
associated with higher levels of CPs, including defiant, aggressive,
and delinquent behaviors, in childhood and adolescence (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). These studies varied widely in their
estimates of the magnitude of the association, however, with some
studies finding no main effect association at all (e.g., Beyers,
Bates, Pettit, & Dodge, 2003; Lynam et al., 2000). Understanding
the sources of these inconsistencies in findings may shed light on
how research on neighborhood effects should proceed.

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

Measurement of Neighborhood Risk
Inconsistencies in findings from previous studies may result
from differences in measurement of neighborhood characteristics.
Some studies used census-based measures of neighborhood characteristics, whereas others used maternal ratings of neighborhood
risks. Although there is some evidence that these approaches
capture similar information (e.g., Ingoldsby & Shaw, 2002; Sampson, 1997), some studies have found differences depending on
measurement approach. Ingoldsby and Shaw (2002) found that
mother-reported neighborhood characteristics independently predicted trajectories of CPs, whereas census-based measures of
neighborhood characteristics were not associated with CP trajectories after controlling for measured covariates. Sampson et al.
(1997) have demonstrated that census-based measures of economic disadvantage and residential instability exert an indirect
influence on conduct problems by contributing to low levels of
informal social control. Thus, measuring neighborhood social processes may provide a more direct estimate of neighborhood risk.
However, it is also possible that differences in effects of ND across
measurement approaches may be influenced by shared method
bias in cases where caregivers report on both ND and conduct


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