A growing literature on small-area effects has linked neighborhood conditions with indicators of child well-being. This paper addresses some of the challenges in identifying and understanding these linkages, with a focus on children’s definitions and perceptions of their neighborhood geographies. The study included 60 children aged 7 to 11 and one of their parents in five neighborhoods (census tracts). Neighborhood maps were elicited from both children and parents. Child and parent maps showed only a modest correlation, suggesting that children have their own conceptions of their neighborhoods. Also, home range was not equated with children’s definitions of neighborhood boundaries. Accurate and meaningful measures of neighborhood, including child-centered measures, are needed. Child-centered neighborhood indicators are an important complement to the measures that are increasingly available for standard neighborhood units. The neighborhood is a potentially important context for improving child well-being by developing area-based programs to address spatial inequality in child well-being.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Aitken, S. (1994). Children’s Geographies. Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers.
Belle, D. (1989). Studying Children’s Social Networks and Social Support. In D. Belle (Ed.), Children’s Social Network’s and Social Supports (pp. 1–12). New York: John Wiley.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2005). Where are the children? Children’s role in measuring and monitoring their well-being. Social Indicators Research, 74, 573–596.
Bryant, B. K. (1985). The Neighborhood Walk: sources of support in middle childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50.
Burton, L. M., & Price-Spratlen, T. (1999). Though the eyes of children: an ethnographic perspective on neighborhoods and child development. In A. S. Hasten (Ed.), Cultural processes in child development (pp. 77–96). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Chawla, L. (1992). Childhood Place Attachments. In I. Altman, & S. M. Low (Eds.), Place Attachment (pp. 63–86). New York: Plenum.
Coulton, C. J., & Korbin, J. E. (2007). Indicators of children’s wellbeing through a neighborhood lens. Social Indicators Research, 84, 349–361.
Coulton, C. J., Korbin, J., Chan, T., & Su, M. (2001). Mapping residents’ perceptions of neighborhood boundaries: A methodological note. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 371–383.
Coulton, C., Cook, T., & Irwin, M. (2004). Aggregation issues in neighborhood research: A comparison of several levels of census geography and resident defined neighborhoods. Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve University Unpublished manuscript.
Coulton, C. J., Crampton, D. S., Irwin, M., Spilsbury, J. C., & Korbin, J. E. (2007). Relationships between neighborhoods and child maltreatment: A review of the literature and alternative pathways. Child Abuse & Neglect, 31, 1117–1142.
Dietz, R. D. (2002). The estimation of neighborhood effects: an interdisciplinary approach. Social Science Research, 31, 539–575.
Feiring, C., & Lewis, M. (1989). The Social Networks of Girls and Boys From Early Through Middle Childhood. In D. Belle (Ed.), Children’s Social Networks and Social Supports (pp. 119–150). New York: John Wiley.
Flowerdew, R., Manley, D. J., & Sabel, C. E. (2008). Neighbourhood effects on health: does it matter where you draw the boundaries? Social Science & Medicine, 66, 1241–1255.
Furstenberg, F. F. (1993). How families manage risk and opportunity in dangerous neighborhoods. In W. J. Wilson (Ed.), Sociology and the Public Agenda (pp. 231–258). Newbery Park: Sage Publications.
Furstenberg Jr., F. F., Cook, T. D., Eccles, J., Elder Jr., G. H., & Sameroff, A. (1999). Managing to Make It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gaster, S. (1995). Rethinking The Children’s Home range Concept. Architecture & Behavior, 11, 35–42.
Heywood, D. I., Cornelius, S., & Carver, S. (1998). An Introduction to Geographical information systems. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Holaday, B., Swan, J. H., & Turner-Henson, A. (1997). Images of neighborhood and activity patterns of chronically ill schoolage children. Environment and Behavior, 29, 348–373.
Juhn, Y., St Sauver, J., Katusic, S., Vargas, D., Weaver, A., & Yunginger, J. (2005). The influence of neighborhood environment on the incidence of childhood asthma: a multilevel approach. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 2453–2464.
Kohen, D. E., Leventhal, T., Dahinten, V. S., & McIntosh, C. N. (2008). Neighborhood disadvantage: pathways of effects for young children. Child Development, 79, 156–169.
Korbin, J. E., & Coulton, C. J. (1997). Understanding the Neighborhood Context for Children and Families: combining epidemiological and ethnographic approaches. In J. Brooks-Gunn, G. J. Duncan, & J. L. Aber (Eds.), Neighborhood Poverty Volume II: Policy Implications in Studying Neighborhoods (pp. 65–79). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Ladd, F. C. (1970). Black youths view their environment: neighborhood maps. Environment and Behavior, 2, 74–99 June.
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: the effects of neighborhood residence upon child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 309–337.
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2003). Children and youth in neighborhood contexts. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 27–31.
Marcus, C. C. (1992). Environmental Memories. In I. Altman, & S. M. Low (Eds.), Place Attachment (pp. 87–112). New York: Plenum.
Matthews, M. H. (1992). Making Sense of Place. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Maurer, R., & Baxter, J. C. (1972). Images of the neighborhood and city among black-, Anglo-, and Mexican-American children. Environment and Behavior, 4, 351–388.
McWayne, C. M., McDermott, P. A., Fantuzzo, J. W., & Culhane, D. P. (2007). Employing community data to investigate social and structural dimensions of urban neighborhoods: an early childhood education example. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39, 47–60.
Molnar, B. E., Buka, S. L., Brennan, R. T., Holton, J. K., & Earls, F. (2003). A multilevel study of neighborhoods and parent-to-child physical aggression: results from the project on human development in Chicago neighborhoods. Child Maltreatment, 8, 84–97.
Molnar, B. E., Cerda, M., Roberts, A. L., & Buka, S. L. (2008). Effects of neighborhood resources on aggressive and delinquent behaviors among urban youths. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 1086–1093.
Morrow, V. (2001). Networks and neighbourhoods: children’s and young people’s perspectives. London: Health Development Agency.
Nelson, M. C., Gordon-Larsen, P., Song, Y., & Popkin, B. M. (2006). Built and social environments associations with adolescent overweight and activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 31, 109–117.
Nicotera, N. (2007). Measuring neighborhood: a conundrum for human services researchers and practitioners. American Journal of Community Psychology, 40, 26–51.
Reading, R., Jones, A., Haynes, R., Konstantinos, D., & Emond, A. (2008). Individual factors explain neighbourhood variations in accidents to children under 5 years of age. Social Science & Medicine, 67, 915–927.
Roosa, M. W., Jones, S., Tien, J. Y., & Cree, W. (2003). Prevention science and neighborhood influences on low-income children’s development: theoretical and methodological issues. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 55–72.
Sampson, R. J., Morenoff, J. D., & Gannon-Rowley, T. (2002). Assessing “neighborhood effects”: social processes and new directions in research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 443–478.
Schiavo, R. S. (1988). Age differences in assessment and use of a suburban neighborhood among children and adolescents. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 5, 4–9.
Sellstrom, E., & Bremberg, S. (2006). The significance of neighbourhood context to child and adolescent health and well-being: a systematic review of multilevel studies. Scandanavian Journal of Public Health, 34, 544–554.
Spilsbury, J. C. (2002a). If I don’t know them, I’ll get killed probably: how children’s concerns about safety shape help-seeking behavior. Childhood, 9, 101–117.
Spilsbury, J. C. (2002b). Hazards and help-seeking in inner-city Cleveland : the child’s perception of neighborhood danger, safety, and support (Doctoral Dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 2002). DAI-A, 63/05, 1891.
Spilsbury, J. C. (2005a). We don’t really get to go out in the front yard–children’s home range and neighborhood violence. Children’s Geographies, 3, 79–99.
Spilsbury, J. C. (2005b). Children’s perceptions of the social supports of neighborhood institutions and establishments. Human Organization, 64, 126–134.
Spilsbury, J. C., & Korbin, J. E. (2004). Negotiating the Dance: Social Capital from the Perspective of Neighborhood Children and Adults. In P. Pufall, & R. Unsworth (Eds.), Rethinking Childhood (pp. 191–206). Piscataway: Rutgers University Press.
Spilsbury, J. C., Storfer-Isser, A., Kirchner, H. L., Nelson, L., Rosen, C. L., Drotar, D., et al. (2006). Neighborhood disadvantage as a risk factor for pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. Journal of Pediatrics, 149, 342–347.
Taylor, R. D. (2000). An examination of the association of African American mothers’ perceptions of their neighborhoods with their parenting and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Black Psychology, 26, 267–287.
van Andel, J. (1990). Places children like, dislike, and fear. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 7, 24–31.
van Vliet, W. (1981). Neighborhood evaluations by city and suburban children. Journal of the American Planning Association, 47, 458–466.
Wolchik, S. A., Beals, J., & Sandler, I. N. (1989). Mapping children’s support networks: conceptual and methodological issues. In D. Belle (Ed.), Children’s Social Networks and Social Supports (pp. 191–220). New York: John Wiley.
Xue, Y., Leventhal, T., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Earls, F. J. (2005). Neighborhood residence and mental health problems of 5–to 11-year-olds. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 554–563.
Xue, Y., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. H. (2007). Neighborhood residence and cigarette smoking among urban youths: the protective role of prosocial activities. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 1865–1872.
We thank Margaret Cooney, Meghan Halley, and Nadia El-Shaarawi for their assistance with the qualitative data. Also, we are grateful to the families who agreed to participate in the study.
This study was supported by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation (Korbin), and by grant RR024990 from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. No real or potential conflicts of interests are associated with this work.
About this article
Cite this article
Spilsbury, J.C., Korbin, J.E. & Coulton, C.J. Mapping Children’s Neighborhood Perceptions: Implications for Child Indicators. Child Ind Res 2, 111–131 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-009-9032-z