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Moving and Changing: How Places Change People Who Move Into Them (WP-02-09)

James Rosenbaum, Stefanie DeLuca, and Tammy Tuck

Recent research suggests that residential mobility can improve the lives of parents and children. Literature has conceptualized the process under the rubric "mixed-income housing," implicitly assuming that low-income people benefit simply by being surrounded by affluent neighbors. However, affluence may not be sufficient to accomplish benefits. This paper examines an alternative "social capital hypothesis" — that social norms and reciprocity provide a form of capital that gives individuals increased capability. Using open-ended interviews with low-income black mothers who moved to mostly white middle-class suburbs, this paper presents a modest preliminary investigation that tries to discover underlying processes. Our analysis suggests that middle-class suburbs are both constraining and enabling to these new residents. Mothers report that suburban norms constrained their behaviors in some ways, but also liberated them in other ways. The mothers also report social responsiveness, which provided resources. Just as the social capital hypothesis suggests, the results suggest the productive power of norms and reciprocity — participants acquired capabilities from living in the suburbs.

James Rosenbaum, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

Stefanie DeLuca, Program in Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University

Tammy Tuck, Former Research Assistant, Institute for Policy Research

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