Why Do Housing Vouchers Lead to Fewer Deaths Among Young Girls, But Not Boys?

Photo: eflon

A new NBER working paper  by Brian Jacob, Jens Ludwig and Douglas Miller examines how improved housing conditions impact child mortality rates in Chicago. The improvement in child mortality seems to apply only to girls, and not boys. The data come from Chicago’s resuscitated housing voucher system, from 1997 through 2005. Here’s the abstract:

In this paper we estimate the causal effects on child mortality from moving into less distressed neighborhood environments. We match mortality data to information on every child in public housing that applied for a housing voucher in Chicago in 1997 (N=11,848). Families were randomly assigned to the voucher wait list, and only some families were offered vouchers. The odds ratio for the effects of being offered a housing voucher on overall mortality rates is equal to 1.11 for all children (95% CI 0.54 to 2.10), 1.50 for boys (95% CI 0.72 to 2.89) and 0.00 for girls – that is, the voucher offer is perfectly protective for mortality for girls (95% CI 0 to 0.79). Our paper also addresses a methodological issue that may arise in studies of low-probability outcomes – perfect prediction by key explanatory variables.

The study builds on the findings of the federal government’s Moving to Opportunity experiment, which started in the mid-1990s and offered randomly chosen residents of public housing the chance to move to a wealthier neighborhood (poverty below 10%). Among adults, rates of obesity and mental health problems declined, but the effects were mixed on the risky behaviors of kids. Girls did better, while boys did worse.

Jacob, Ludwig and Miller looked deeper into the mortality statistics, and found the same thing. While moving from a disadvantaged neighborhood proved perfectly protective for girls, (none of the female youths in the study’s sample died after their families were offered housing vouchers) it actually increased the mortality risk for boys.

We also find that moving out of disadvantaged public housing does not have the same protective effects on mortality outcomes for male youth.
…It is interesting that in our data the suggestive (but not statistically significant) indications of increased mortality to male youth from residential mobility are concentrated among homicides, while declines in mortality to female youth are concentrated among deaths due to disease and accidents.
…Although our findings for homicides and accidents for boys are limited in their statistical power, the point estimates are consistent with the MTO studies, finding that boys were more likely to be injured or engage in other problem behaviors.

Further evidence of the “accident hump” at work?

The authors conclude that if the mortality rate in public housing overall was similar to their study’s control mean, then if every public housing family that applied for a voucher in 1997 had been offered one, the mortality rate for all youth black females in public housing (9,269 black females 18 and under living in Chicago public housing in 2000) would have declined by 5 per 100,000 (17 percent).


It would be interesting to know if the death rate for boys born to low-income families that had already transitioned to better neighborhoods was comparable to boys who were moved into better neighborhoods.

If so, then one cause might be the structure of the families. As I understand it, housing vouchers are only available to single parents, which usually means single mothers. It ain't rocket science.

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I'd like to know the age, location, and timing of the deaths. Older teens getting killed a couple of years after moving in their old neighborhoods (where they might now be perceived as outsiders) is different from a ten year old getting killed in the new neighborhood.

I wonder if they controlled for the age of the child at the time of the move. Perhaps people with young daughters and older sons were more likely to move than people with older daughters and younger sons.


If you belong to a gang and you move into a new rival gang territory, you place yourself at greater risk.

The old neighborhood had well defined boundaries and rules. In the new neighborhood, there is a scramble to establish a new order. Males tend to establish the gangs, females then align with the gangs for protection etc.

As gangbangers left the projects in Chicago, they often moved to middle class black communities. Were gang and criminal activity soon increased.


I know this is a cliche, but, seriously, this is where my hard-earned tax dollars go? Not only on government housing, but then a voucher program, and then a study?

I think Lenin would be going "Hey, guys, easy with the checkbook!"...

Rodger Chinery

The reason for the difference in deaths is how boys and girls differ in handling transitions to new places and schools. Girls are looking to establish new freinds. Boys have to use conflict to establish their place in the "pecking order (relative positon in strength and meanness). We see the same phenomenon when multiple elementary schools send their students on to middle school - a marked increase in faights for the first few months repeated again in high school and its the same pattern when moving into a new neighborhood. While most fights do not end in death a few get out of control. It is the pattern that would be expected to be seen.

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Which goes back to one of my questions: How soon after the move did this happen? Your explanation (which seems plausible to me) suggests that these deaths would happen relatively soon after moving to the new area.

It also suggests that families with young children would not see an increase in death rates, since preschooler boys don't behave like teenage boys.


5 per 100,000 (17 percent)?????