How Does the Neighborhood "Come through the Door?" Neighborhood Disadvantage and the Home Environment for Preschoolers

Open Access
May, Emily M.
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
August 17, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Sandra T Azar, Thesis Advisor
  • Martha Ellen Wadsworth, Committee Member
  • Dawn Paula Witherspoon, Committee Member
  • poverty
  • early childhood
  • neighborhood
  • concentrated disadvantage
  • residential instability
  • neighborhood disorder
  • depression
  • parenting
  • social support
Exposure to neighborhood poverty is particularly salient for children's cognitive development and later academic outcomes during early childhood. Home environments are thought to be a primary mechanism by which neighborhood disadvantage, including concentrated disadvantage and residential instability, impacts preschoolers. The current study examines the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on two aspects of the home environments that are important for preschoolers’ development: the learning environment and the physical environment. In a sample of low-income urban families with preschool age children (N = 187), mothers’ perceived neighborhood disorder and depressive symptoms were examined as mechanisms by which neighborhood disadvantage “comes through the door.” Social support from family and friends and neighborhood social embeddedness were examined as protective factors and potential buffers of neighborhood effects. Results showed that neighborhood concentrated disadvantage had an indirect effect on the quality of the home learning environment and a direct effect on the quality of the home physical environment, controlling for income. Although indicators representing neighborhood residential instability were found to have low internal reliability, residential instability was correlated with the home learning environment. Social support did not buffer the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on the home environment. Neighborhood social embeddedness buffered the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on both the home learning environment and home physical environment. Study findings advance our understanding of the mechanisms by which living in a disadvantaged neighborhood may affect the home environment of young children. These findings also contribute to knowledge on differences in the way that children’s home physical environments and home learning environments may be impacted by living in poverty. Finally, study findings add support to the idea that parents’ positive interactions with neighbors can ameliorate the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on families with young children.