Is adolescence a sensitive period for a housing mobility experiment’s effects on risky behaviors? An Experimental Design

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Purpose: Test whether neighborhood mobility effects on adolescent risky behaviors varies at different developmental ages and gender. Methods: The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) study randomly assigned volunteer families (1994-1997) to receive a Section 8 voucher to move to lower poverty neighborhoods versus a public housing control group. We tested three-way treatment, gender, and age-at-randomization interactions using intent-to-treat linear regression predicting a risky behavior index (RBI; measured in 2002, N = 2,829), defined as the fraction of 10 behaviors the youth reported (six measuring risky substance use [RSU], four measuring risky sexual behavior), and the RSU and risky sexual behavior subscales. Results: The treatment main effect on RBI was nonsignificant for girls (B = -.01, 95% confidence interval -.024 to .014) and harmful for boys (B = .03, 95% confidence interval .009 to .059; treatment-gender interaction p = .01). The treatment, gender, and age interaction was significant for RBI (p = .02) and RSU (p ≤ .001). Treatment boys 10 years or older at randomization were more likely (p < .05) than controls to exhibit RBI and RSU, whereas there was no effect of treatment for boys <10 years. There were no treatment control differences by age for girls' RBI, but girls 9+ years were less likely than girls ≤8 years to exhibit RSU (p < .05). Conclusions: Moving families of boys aged 10 years or older with rental vouchers may have adverse consequences on risky behaviors but may be beneficial for girls' substance use. Developmental windows are different by gender for the effects of improving neighborhood contexts on adolescent risky behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431–437
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine


  • Adolescence
  • Adolescent behavior
  • Housing
  • Public housing
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Risky behaviors
  • Sensitive periods

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Randomized Controlled Trial


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