Neighborhood Crime and Histories of Disadvantage: Structural Effects Over Time and Space

Open Access
Becker, Jacob H.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 07, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Dissertation Advisor
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Committee Chair
  • Barrett Alan Lee, Committee Member
  • D Wayne Osgood, Committee Member
  • Diane Krantz Mclaughlin, Committee Member
  • Lori Burrington, Special Member
  • Neighborhoods
  • Homicide
  • Disadvantage
  • Collective Efficacy
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Histories
  • Criminology
The relationships between neighborhood structural conditions and crime have been extensively studied, but recent scholarship has suggested that important questions remain unanswered regarding (1) variation in the cross-sectional relationships between structural conditions and crime across neighborhoods and (2) the temporal nature of the social processes linking structure to crime. Much of the communities and crime research relies heavily on cross-sectional, non-spatial examinations of key relationships between concentrated disadvantage, social processes like collective efficacy, and crime outcomes. This is somewhat surprising given the theoretically important role of stability and change in ecological perspectives on crime. Key processes mediating the structure-crime relationship are inherently time-dependent, requiring time to develop (or weaken/strengthen) in response to changing structural conditions, while the influence they exert on crime-related outcomes similarly takes time to emerge (e.g. through building or limiting informal social control). Using multiple years of decennial census data, information on neighborhood social conditions from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods Community Survey (PHDCN-CS), and homicide data collected by the Chicago Police Department, this dissertation combines these foci – historical time and geographical space – into an exploration of 1) how neighborhood histories of concentrated disadvantage influence neighborhood homicide rates; 2) how neighborhood histories of concentrated disadvantage influence neighborhood levels of collective efficacy; and 3) how the influence of change or stability in neighborhood concentrated disadvantage on neighborhood homicide rates is channeled through collective efficacy, an important theoretical mediator of the concentrated disadvantage-crime association. The major findings fall into four general categories. First, the cross-sectional relationship between the level of neighborhood concentrated disadvantage and homicide rates significantly varies across Chicago neighborhoods in cross-section in 1990. The same was found for the relationship between the level of concentrated disadvantage and neighborhood collective efficacy. Second, in both cases the cross-sectional relationship became spatially invariant once a measure of historical within-neighborhood changes in concentrated disadvantage was added to the models. It appears that there are significant differences in homicide rates across neighborhoods which share a similar level of disadvantage in cross-section but have dissimilar histories of disadvantage in the preceding decades. Third, while the previous results suggest that within-neighborhood changes in concentrated disadvantage are “disruptive” in terms of contributing to higher homicide rates and lower levels of collective efficacy, it also appears that within-neighborhood historical stability interacts with the cross-sectional level of concentrated disadvantage. The negative effects of high disadvantage are exacerbated under stable historical conditions, at least as far as being significantly related to higher homicide rates. It appears that the detrimental effects of high levels of disadvantage “accumulate” under stable conditions. However, this was not the case in when collective efficacy was the outcome modeled; it does not appear that the harmful effects of concentrated disadvantage on collective efficacy “accumulate” under stable historical conditions. Finally, it does not appear that the effects of within-neighborhood change (or stability) are mediated by the collective efficacy mechanism. While collective efficacy does mediate the cross-sectional relationship between concentrated disadvantage and homicide rates to some extent, it does not explain the spatial variation in the relationship. It is only after accounting for within-neighborhood change in the model that the cross-sectional relationship between disadvantage and neighborhood homicide rates becomes spatially invariant. The key contribution of this research was to demonstrate that within-neighborhood stability and change in concentrated disadvantage plays an important role in the production of neighborhood collective efficacy, as well as significantly contributes to the prediction of neighborhood homicide rates. This realistic representation of neighborhoods as both spatial and temporal units adds to the growing body of work that considers neighborhoods from a developmental or life-course perspective. It should be extended by considering what other social processes – besides collective efficacy – may mediate the impact of within-neighborhood structural change, as well as with explorations of other sources of within-neighborhood change like immigration concentration.