Perceived Neighborhood Safety During Adolescence Predicts Subsequent Deterioration of Subjective Health Two Decades Later; Gender Differences in a Racially-Diverse Sample

Shervin Assari, Cleopatra Howard Caldwell, Marc A Zimmerman


Background: Current study aimed to investigate whether perceived neighborhood as unsafe during adolescence predicts the subsequent perceived health two decades later.

Methods: In a prospective study of an ethnically diverse urban sample (83.2% Black), conducted from 1994 to 2012, 851 adolescents were enrolled at 9th grade. Three hundred and seventy‑eight participants were followed from 9th grade for 18 years. The outcome was subjective health (feeling as healthy as other people of the same age) measured at baseline (mean age 15 years) and end of follow‑up (mean age 33 years). The independent variable was neighborhood perceived as unsafe measured at 9th grade. Baseline age, family structure, and parental employment were control variables. We ran logistic regressions in the pooled sample and also specific to each gender.

Results: Perceived neighborhood as unsafe at 9th grade predicted deterioration of subjective health over the next 18 years (unadjusted odds ratio = 1.742, 95% confidence interval = 1.042–2.911). This association remained significant in a multivariable model that controlled for baseline subjective health, family structure, and parental employment. The association between perceived neighborhood safety at 9th grade and subsequent deterioration of perceived health during the next 12 years was significant for females but not males.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that perception of unsafe neighborhoods during adolescence has negative consequences years later for the health of females. Further research is needed to replicate the findings using objective measures of health.

Keywords: Adolescence, adults, life course, neighbourhood, subjective health

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