Positive results from the Moving to Opportunity Program (Finally)

The latest edition of the American Economic Review includes a paper with positive impacts of the Moving to Opportunity program (thereafter MTO) on children’s outcomes: The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment, by our Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence F. Katz

The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment offered randomly selected families housing vouchers to move from high-poverty housing projects to lower-poverty neighborhoods. We analyze MTO’s impacts on children’s long-term outcomes using tax data. We find that moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood when young (before age 13) increases college attendance and earnings and reduces single parenthood rates. Moving as an adolescent has slightly negative impacts, perhaps because of disruption effects. The decline in the gains from moving with the age when children move suggests that the duration of exposure to better environments during childhood is an important determinant of children’s long-term outcomes.

That is very interesting, because it shows positive impacts of the MTO program for children, when the impacts for adults were … positive but not particularly striking. From Long-Term Neighborhood Effects on Low-Income Families: Evidence from Moving to Opportunity, by Jens Ludwig, Greg J. Duncan, Lisa A. Gennetian, Lawrence F. Katz, Ronald C. Kessler, Jeffrey R. Kling, Lisa Sanbonmatsu (yes these randomized controlled trials take armies of researchers to complete):

We examine long-term neighborhood effects on low-income families using data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) randomized housing-mobility experiment, which offered some public-housing families but not others the chance to move to less-disadvantaged neighborhoods. We show that 10-15 years after baseline MTO improves adult physical and mental health; has no detectable effect on economic outcomes, youth schooling and youth physical health; and mixed results by gender on other youth outcomes, with girls doing better on some measures and boys doing worse. Despite the somewhat mixed pattern of impacts on traditional behavioral outcomes, MTO moves substantially improve adult subjective well-being.

That paper was in the working paper series of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the repository for some of the newest edgy research.

Now, what’s interesting about the AER paper (the first one) is that it is pretty consistent with the very substantial amount of research that shows that most of educational inequalities are shaped early in life. This is what Heckman says, this is what my rather brainy PhD mentor says.*

PS: back blogging after a pretty intense teaching period and a great talk in Manhattan, joint with New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate, NYU Stern’s Urbanization Project, and the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management.

For an introduction the Moving to Opportunity program, see the NBER’s description.

*  Although in the Maurin paper, children are older than the ones for whom there is a positive impact in the Chetty et al. AER paper.