So close yet so different: Neighborhood inequality and child maltreatment

Publication Year


Journal Article

Extensive research has documented the importance of neighborhood contextual factors in shaping maltreatment risk. Evidence is limited about the role of economic inequality within neighborhoods, which has increased substantially in the US over the past decade. This study examines the relationship between neighborhood-level inequality and child maltreatment risk, paying particular attention to the cross-level interactions between neighborhood inequality and family income. A population-based cohort of 4,898 children born in large US cities was sampled in 1998–2000 and followed up at ages 1, 3, 5, and 9. A set of regression models was analyzed to estimate the associations of family income, neighborhood inequality (operationalized as terciles of the Gini coefficient), and the interaction of these with child maltreatment risk, operationalized as physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, CPS involvement, and spanking. Low-income was associated with higher risks of neglect and CPS involvement, but not physical abuse, psychological abuse, or spanking. Among low-income families, higher neighborhood inequality was associated with lower likelihood of spanking. Among higher-income families, higher neighborhood inequality levels were associated with higher risks of physical abuse, yet lower risks of psychological abuse. Our findings align with previous studies showing mixed results on the relationship between neighborhood inequality and health outcomes. Those results may suggest that the effect of low-income itself is more important than the neighborhood context. Further research is needed to identify the determinants of inequality at the neighborhood level and the underlying mechanisms of its association with child maltreatment risks.

Child Abuse & Neglect