Families who live in better neighborhoods may find some residual health benefits. Moving families out of low-income neighborhoods does not necessarily increase wealth or job status but may offer a boost in a different way which supports long-term health and increased happiness.
A recent study published in the journal Science focused on data analyzed from a study called Moving to Opportunity, a federal housing mobility experiment from the 1990s. Approximately 4,600 low-income families living in poor neighborhoods in five major cities across America were analyzed. About 2,000 families received housing vouchers which allowed the families to move into mixed-income neighborhoods, while others stayed behind. The goal was to determine how much a person's living environment impacts his or her success. Scientists noted families who moved reported significant boosts in physical and psychological health, even while job status or educational opportunities may not have changed.
Compared with families who did not move, families who switched neighborhoods experienced lower rates of the following conditions:
Rates of depression decreased while the overall satisfaction with life rose to that of a person whose annual income was $13,000 more a year. The significant findings of this report demonstrate money does not necessarily equate to happiness. Helping poor families is about more than just increasing income, but also providing a safe, lower stress environment in which to live, raise kids and work.
Researchers were not sure why moving to a new neighborhood made people feel happier but the focus shifted to how people feel more safe and less stressed in different neighborhoods. Some families received mental health benefits in less violent and impoverished communities while some were no better off. Racial segregation did not seem to change the statistics of overall happiness for people, in fact even if it the new neighborhood was as racially segregated, people were significantly happier. The reality is people experience health and happiness in different contexts so it is an individual experience whether or not moving will bring greater happiness, contentment and overall health benefits.
More research is needed to understand what supports families in creating more health benefits and happiness. It is not just from where a family lives, works and attends school but also dependent on other factors including family, community and other unknown variables. As researchers continue to work at understanding the human condition, health and happiness it will be necessary to learn more about the connection between poverty and happiness for future generations. Firm understanding of how these factors work together can provide greater insight into how healthy communities develop, and maintain, overall wellness and happiness.