Why Low-Income Families Remain in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods

Why Low-Income Families Remain in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods
Eva Rosen
American Sociological Review
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Why do low-income families remain in and make lateral moves within disadvantaged communities? Eva Rosen explored this question, which she describes as horizontal immobility, through an examination of residents’ narratives, the stories they tell about their neighborhoods. Conducting 50 interviews in Park Heights, Baltimore, and living in the high-poverty neighborhood for 15 months, Rosen used interview transcripts and ethnographic observations to understand how culture, or narratives, influenced residents’ decisions to move. Rosen found that residents explained why they moved to the neighborhood in the context of their previous residential experiences, used narratives to manage and make sense of their environment, and moved because the narratives stopped working or a narrative rupture, such as violence, occurred. The author’s qualitative analysis reveals that residential mobility does not necessarily mean upward mobility, complementing literature that relies on preference and constraint to explain residential mobility.

Key findings

  • Residents attempted to apply the narratives and strategies used in previous neighborhood contexts to their new setting.
  • The flexibility of residents’ narratives allowed them to remain in their neighborhoods until an event, a narrative rupture, abruptly made living in their neighborhoods unmanageable.
  • Residential mobility after a narrative rupture does not always create upward mobility because past residential experiences can influence what options are available, causing some residents to make minimal, rather than ambitious, moves to regain a sense of safety.