Problems in deprived neighbourhoods are often tackled through socio-economic integration. The thought behind this approach is that residents with lower incomes and educational levels are motivated to improve their position through their proximity to neighbours with a better socio-economic standing. However, young people who move to more affluent areas actually exhibit more problem behaviour.

This is one of the most significant conclusions from the recently published research conducted by Jaap Nieuwenhuis from the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at TU Delft.

Entitled Being Poorer Than the Rest of the Neighborhood: Relative Deprivation and Problem Behavior of Youth, Nieuwenhuis’ study reveals that youths who move from a poor neighbourhood to a relatively affluent neighbourhood suffer more from depression, anxiety disorders, aggressive behaviour and conflicts with their parents. This finding opposes the generally accepted belief that it is, in fact, beneficial to move youths from deprived neighbourhoods to better neighbourhoods and to allow them to integrate with youths from more affluent families. 

For a period of five years, researchers monitored young people aged between 12 and 16 from throughout the Netherlands, tracking aspects including changes in their parent’s income, when they moved house and changes in the degree of problematic behaviour.

Their research indicates that youths who move to a more affluent neighbourhood are more likely to display problematic behaviour. Youths from poorer neighbourhoods appear to experience few benefits from having more prosperous neighbours. These findings are in direct contrast with the policy of mixed neighbourhoods that is currently often applied. 

The greater contrast between their own socio-economic situation and that of the rest of the neighbourhood appears to result in more problems. One potential explanation for this is that young people compare their own situation with that of their more prosperous neighbours, thereby confirming their relatively disadvantaged socio-economic position. If they subsequently come to consider this to be unfair, their feelings can be manifested as problematic behaviour.

This study demonstrates that integrating neighbourhoods does not by definition lead to positive results. The research also emphasises that socio-economic inequality can result in a greater incidence of problematic behaviour amongst youths; an extremely significant conclusion in the modern-day climate of increasing inequality. Nieuwenhuis suggests that policy should primarily focus on increasing the opportunities for youths with regard to education and employment, not through social mixing, but through investment in education.

The research has been open access published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and is available for download here