The purpose of this study is to 1) examine the theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches being examined between neighborhood effects and the transition to adulthood, and 2) point to emerging findings. In doing so, we aim to highlight gaps and directions for new research in order to understand the importance of neighborhood environments for shaping outcomes during a particularly sensitive period for health in the life course.
Methods: Using a scoping review methodology (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Levac et al., 2010), articles were identified for inclusion using pre-established search criteria in academic search engines, google scholar and reference lists of key manuscripts. Empirical literature published between 2000 and 2018 using U.S. samples of adults aged 18-30 were included. A final sample of 24 articles were reviewed. Data were extracted from each article using a standardized template, and analyzed following an inductive thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
Results: Five themes emerged from our review, and collectively, illustrated the varied approaches taken to this research. Themes included: 1) Neighborhoods defined as either geographically bounded or person-centered spaces; 2) Measured neighborhood characteristics fell within three dimensions – social, economic, and built; 3) Research aims either aligned with a developmentally informed or an a-theoretical approach; 4) Neighborhoods generally demonstrated significant effects on health and behavior; and 5) Neighborhoods tend to be experienced differently by gender and race/ethnicity.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings from our review suggest that the relationship between neighborhoods and health during the transition to adulthood is a growing and promising area of research. As an emerging literature, many gaps remain, and further research and theory development is needed before strong practice recommendations can emerge. Research should identify a clear and cohesive set of mechanisms linking neighborhoods to health during the transition to adulthood, focusing on the developmental tasks that make this period unique from adolescence and later adulthood. This should include: 1) identifying whether and how neighborhoods matter for supporting key transition processes, such as identity development and meeting adult benchmarks; and 2) clarifying how identity-specific dimensions of place influence behavior and health, and for whom. Efforts to address these gaps carry important implications for research and practice, including the development of strategies to prevent and interrupt inequalities that lie at the intersection of place and health.