Jeffrey Liebman

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Several important social science literatures hinge on the functional relationship between
neighborhood characteristics and individual outcomes. Although there have been numerous
non-experimental estimates of these relationships, there are serious concerns about their
reliability because individuals self-select into neighborhoods. This paper uses data from HUD’s
Moving to Opportunity (MTO) randomized housing voucher experiment to estimate the
relationship between neighborhood poverty and individual outcomes using experimental
variation. In addition, it assesses the reliability of non-experimental estimates by comparing
them to experimental estimates.
We find that our method for using experimental variation to estimate the relationship
between neighborhood poverty and individual outcomes – instrumenting for neighborhood
poverty with site-by-treatment group interactions – produces precise estimates in models in
which poverty enters linearly. Our estimates of nonlinear and threshold models are not precise
enough to be conclusive, though many of our point estimates suggest little, if any, deviation from
linearity. Our non-experimental estimates are inconsistent with our experimental estimates,
suggesting that non-experimental estimates are not reliable. Moreover, the selection pattern that
reconciles the experimental and non-experimental results is complex, suggesting that common
assumptions about the direction of bias in non-experimental estimates may be incorrect.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Liebman, J., Katz, L., & Kling, J. (2004). Beyond Treatment Effects: Estimating the Relationship Between Neighborhood Poverty and Individual Outcomes in the MTO Experiment. Retrieved from (Original work published 08/2004AD)
Working Papers

We examine the effects of moving out of high-poverty neighborhoods on the outcomes of
teenage youth, a population often seen as most at risk from the adverse effects of such
neighborhoods. The randomized design of the Moving To Opportunity demonstration allows us
to compare groups of youth, initially similar and living in high-poverty public housing. An
“experimental” group was offered vouchers valid only in a low-poverty neighborhood; a
“Section 8” group was offered traditional vouchers without geographic restriction; and a control
group was not offered vouchers.
We study outcomes in four domains: education, risky behavior, mental health, and
physical health. Aggregating effect sizes over all of the outcomes, females in both treatment
groups benefited from the moves, while males in both treatment groups experienced worse
outcomes. Females in the experimental group experienced improvements in education and
mental health and were less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Females in the traditional
voucher group experienced improvements in mental health. Males in both treatment groups were
more likely than controls to engage in risky behaviors and to experience physical health
problems. We adopt a multiple-testing framework to account for the large number of estimates
considered. We show that the overall effects on females in the experimental group and the
effects on mental health for females in both treatment groups were least likely to be due to
sampling variation.
Families with female children and families with male children moved to similar
neighborhoods, suggesting that their outcomes differ not because of exposure to different types
of neighborhoods but because male and female youth respond to their environments in different

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Liebman, J., & Kling, J. (2004). Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects on Youth. Retrieved from (Original work published 03/2004AD)
Working Papers

This paper examines the short-run impacts of a change in residential neighborhood on the
well-being of low-income families, using evidence from a program in which eligibility for a housing
voucher was determined by random lottery. We examine the experiences of households at the
Boston site of Moving To Opportunity (MTO), a demonstration program in five cities. Families in
high poverty public housing projects applied to MTO and were assigned by lottery to one of three
groups: Experimental — offered mobility counseling and a Section 8 subsidy valid only in a Census
tract with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent; Section 8 Comparison — offered a geographically
unrestricted Section 8 subsidy; or Control — offered no new assistance, but continued to be eligible
for public housing.
Our quantitative analyses of program impacts uses data on 540 families from a baseline
survey at program enrollment, a follow-up survey administered l to 3.5 years after random
assignment, and state administrative data on earnings and welfare receipt. 48 percent of the
Experimental group and 62 percent of the Section 8 Comparison group moved through the MTO
program. One to three years after program entry, families in both treatment groups were more likely
to be residing in neighborhoods with low poverty rates and high education levels than were families
in the Control group. However, while members of the Experimental group were much more likely
to be residing in suburban communities than were those in the Section 8 group, the lower program
take-up rate among the Experimental group resulted in more families remaining in the most
distressed communities. Households in both treatment groups experienced improvements in
multiple measures of well-being relative to the Control group including increased safety, improved
health among household heads, and fewer behavior problems among boys. Experimental group
children were also less likely to be a victim of a personal crime, to be injured, or to experience an
asthma attack. There are no significant impacts of either MTO treatment on the employment,
earnings, or welfare receipt of household heads in the first three years after random assignment.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2001
Liebman, J., Katz, L., & Kling, J. (2000). Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment. Retrieved from (Original work published 06/2000AD)
Working Papers

We study adult economic and health outcomes in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO)
demonstration, a randomized housing mobility experiment in which families living in highpoverty
U.S. public housing projects in five cities were given vouchers to help them move to
private housing units in lower-poverty neighborhoods. An “experimental” group was offered
vouchers valid only in a low-poverty neighborhood; a “Section 8” group was offered traditional
housing vouchers without geographic restriction; a control group was not offered vouchers. Our
sample consists largely of black and Hispanic female household heads with children.
Five years after random assignment, the families offered housing vouchers through MTO
lived in safer neighborhoods that had significantly lower poverty rates than those of the control
group not offered vouchers. However, we find no significant overall effects on adult
employment, earnings, or public assistance receipt -- though our sample sizes are not sufficiently
large to rule out moderate effects in either direction. In contrast, we do find significant mental
health benefits of the MTO intervention for the experimental group. We also demonstrate a more
general pattern for the mental health results using both treatment groups of systematically larger
effect sizes for groups experiencing larger changes in neighborhood poverty rates. In our
analysis of physical health outcomes, we find a significant reduction in obesity, but no
significant effects on four other aspects of physical health (general health, asthma, physical
limitations, and hypertension), and our summary measure of physical health was not significantly
affected by the MTO treatment for the overall sample.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Sanbonmatsu, L., Liebman, J., Katz, L., & Kling, J. (2004). Moving to Opportunity and Tranquility: Neighborhood Effects on Adult Economic Self-Sufficiency and Health From a Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment. Retrieved from (Original work published 04/2004AD)
Working Papers