Moving to Opportunity and Tranquility: Neighborhood Effects on Adult Economic Self-Sufficiency and Health From a Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment


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.

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