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It's all relative: Concentrated disadvantage within and across neighborhoods and communities, and the consequences for neighborhood crime


Purpose: Prior studies have largely been unable to account for how variations in inequality across larger areas might impact crime rates in neighborhoods. We examine this broader context both in terms of the spatial area surrounding neighborhoods as well as the larger, city-level context. Although social disorganization, opportunity and relative deprivation theories are typically used to explain variations in neighborhood crime, these theories make differing predictions about crime when the broader areas that neighborhoods are embedded in are taken into account. Methods: We use data from the National Neighborhood Crime Study for 7956 neighborhoods in 79 cities. Multi-level models with spatial effects are estimated to explain the relationship between crime and city and neighborhood social and economic resources. Results: Disadvantage in the focal neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods increase neighborhood violent crime, consistent with social disorganization theory. However, relative deprivation provides a more robust explanation for understanding variation in property crime, as the difference in disadvantage between a neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods (or the broader community) explains higher levels of property crime. Conclusions: Criminologists need to account for the larger context of nearby neighborhoods, as well as the broader city, when understanding the effect of relative deprivation on neighborhood-level property crime rates.

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