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Cityscape: Volume 14 Number 2 | Article 4


Moving to Opportunity

Volume 14 Number 2

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Adult Health and Economic Self-Sufficiency

Lisa Sanbonmatsu, National Bureau of Economic Research

Jordan Marvakov, Eastern Research Group, Inc.

Nicholas A. Potter, National Bureau of Economic Research

Fanghua Yang, National Bureau of Economic Research

Emma Adam, Northwestern University

William J. Congdon, The Brookings Institution

Greg J. Duncan, University of California, Irvine

Lisa A. Gennetian, The Brookings Institution

Lawrence F. Katz, Harvard University, National Bureau of Economic Research

Jeffrey R. Kling, Congressional Budget Office, National Bureau of Economic Research

Ronald C. Kessler, Harvard Medical School

Stacy Tessler Lindau, University of Chicago

Jens Ludwig, University of Chicago, National Bureau of Economic Research

Thomas W. McDade, Northwestern University

The contents of this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. government, or any state or local agency that provided data.


Adults living in high-poverty neighborhoods often fare worse than adults in more advantaged neighborhoods on their physical health, mental health, and economic well-being. Although social scientists have observed this association for hundreds of years, they have found it difficult to determine the extent to which the neighborhoods themselves affect well-being versus the extent to which people at greater risk for adverse outcomes live in impoverished neighborhoods. In this article, we examine neighborhood effects using data from the 10- to 15-year evaluation of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration, which offered randomly selected families a housing voucher. The experimental design of MTO allows us to isolate the effects of neighborhoods from selection bias. We find that, 10 to 15 years after enrolling participants, the program had very few detectable effects on economic well-being but had some substantial effects on the physical and mental health of adults. For adults whose families received the offer of a housing voucher that could be used to move only to a low-poverty neighborhood, we find health benefits in terms of lower prevalence of diabetes, extreme obesity, physical limitations, and psychological distress. For adults offered a Section 8 voucher, we find benefits in terms of less extreme obesity and lower prevalence of lifetime depression.

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