Long-term effects of the Moving to Opportunity residential mobility experiment on crime and delinquency

Matthew Sciandra, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Greg J. Duncan, Lisa A. Gennetian, Lawrence F. Katz, Ronald C. Kessler, Jeffrey R. Kling, Jens Ludwig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Using data from a randomized experiment, to examine whether moving youth out of areas of concentrated poverty, where a disproportionate amount of crime occurs, prevents involvement in crime. Methods: We draw on new administrative data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment. MTO families were randomized into an experimental group offered a housing voucher that could only be used to move to a low-poverty neighborhood, a Section 8 housing group offered a standard housing voucher, and a control group. This paper focuses on MTO youth ages 15-25 in 2001 (n = 4,643) and analyzes intention to treat effects on neighborhood characteristics and criminal behavior (number of violent- and property-crime arrests) through 10 years after randomization. Results: We find the offer of a housing voucher generates large improvements in neighborhood conditions that attenuate over time and initially generates substantial reductions in violent-crime arrests and sizable increases in property-crime arrests for experimental group males. The crime effects attenuate over time along with differences in neighborhood conditions. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that criminal behavior is more strongly related to current neighborhood conditions (situational neighborhood effects) than to past neighborhood conditions (developmental neighborhood effects). The MTO design makes it difficult to determine which specific neighborhood characteristics are most important for criminal behavior. Our administrative data analyses could be affected by differences across areas in the likelihood that a crime results in an arrest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-489
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Crime
  • Long-term impacts
  • Neighborhood effects
  • Poverty
  • Randomized experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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