Neighbourhood of residence

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Published on June 18, 2020

This article is part of our “Determinants and the pandemic” series, which examines certain determinants of school perseverance in light of the current crisis and its attendant measures.

Determinant | Impacts of the health crisis | Concerns | References


Numerous studies point to an important link between where children live, i.e., their neighbourhood of residence, and their perseverance at school.

Here are two important aspects of this determinant.


Certain studies show a connection between young people’s living conditions and their success at school. Young people living in poorer neighbourhoods appear to be more likely to have more difficulties in school:

  • They appear to have a higher risk of dropping out—up to twice as high compared to other neighbourhoods. [1]
  • These children seem to have poorer communication skills; their vocabulary can be half that of children from more prosperous neighbourhoods. [2]
  • They may believe themselves less able to succeed or think they have no influence over the conditions that affect their success. [3]
  • They can be at greater risk of delayed language development, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, falling behind in school, and behavioural difficulties. [4]


The social cohesion of the neighbourhoods in which children live also plays an important role in their educational progress because it fosters perseverance at school. [5]

Social cohesion, as defined by the Council of Europe (2005), is the capacity of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members. This includes equal access to resources, respect for dignity in diversity, personal and collective autonomy, and responsible participation, which involves social engagement to minimize disparity and avoid polarization. [6]

From a child-development perspective, the most cohesive environments appear to be connected to “positive role models,” to the support of friends and acquaintances, or to high-quality services (e.g., health care, daycare, libraries, parks, playgrounds, schools, and community centres). [7] Communities with greater social cohesion are generally more likely to be involved in decisions that affect them. [8]

Moreover, for many researchers, “children are influenced by their peers and tend to imitate and conform to characteristics they see around them” (Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal). [9] This influence can be positive or negative.

[ Learn more about the determinant “neighbourhood of residence ”]


“Montreal is composed of a multitude of local communities, each having its own reality and pressing issues. This means that actions must be adapted to each neighbourhood’s specific needs,” and in some cases, to individual blocks. [10]



Urban density:

  • Over one million people live here. Montreal is one of three Canadian cities with over a million in habitants, along with Toronto (2.7 million) and Calgary (1.2 million). (2016 census) [11]


  • 35.8% of disadvantaged Canadian neighbourhoods are in Montreal (Toronto, 15.7%; Vancouver, 7.1%) (National Household Survey, 2011). [12]
  • 24% of families with children under the age of 18 live below the poverty line after taxes (the rest of Québec has a rate of 8%) (2016 Census) [13]


  • 60% are renters, and 36.8% spend over 30% of their income on housing (2016 Census) [14]
  • There are some 21,287 low-rent housing units (Ville de Montréal, 2018) [15]

To get a sense of the situation in Montreal’s neighbourhoods, recall that a 2018 survey conducted by Campagne 2000 named Montreal the Québec capital of child poverty.


“The conditions associated with poverty directly affect people’s health, which could make them more vulnerable to infection.” [17]

Numerous studies show that poverty affects people’s health, making it a risk factor during the health crisis.

Such risk factors are uneven across Montreal neighbourhoods; they may be limited in certain areas or, on the contrary, be heightened in others and contribute to increasing local disparity.

  • Reduced access to care, fresh food, and physical activity can have harmful effects on health, making people more vulnerable to epidemics. [18]
  • Crowding and unsanitary housing conditions can increase the risk of infection.
  • As a result, the virus spreads more easily in densely populated neighbourhoods, especially in those with a high number of people per household. [19]
  • A precarious job requiring direct human contact makes people more vulnerable to infection. [20] It is important to note that these jobs are currently filled by both adults active in the job market, mostly women (according to Statistics Canada, 53% of precarious jobs are filled by women aged 25 to 44, though they make up 48% of the total workforce), [21] and by newly hired young people.
  • Losing a job or changes in working conditions will have heavier consequences for low-income people, who “cannot afford to have their hours reduced or income cut.” [22]


“As of May 16th, there were 2.5 times more people with COVID-19 in Montréal’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods than in the most affluent ones. The gap has been constantly growing since the beginning of the pandemic.” [23]


Like the risk factors of the health crisis, social cohesion has changed unevenly in Montreal neighbourhoods. The many different kinds of situations existing between neighbourhoods complicates the process of understanding the new realities of children and youth.

Public, private, and community services in montreal

It is also important to remember that there is a wide range of public, private, and community services available locally in various neighbourhoods (schools, daycares, libraries, parks, sports facilities, community organizations) that work to create social cohesion, including:

  • 45 neighbourhood libraries [24]
  • 34 arenas, 48 indoor pools and 78 outdoor pools [25]
  • 625 community organizations offering health services [26]
  • At least 91 organizations promoting perseverance at school [27]

However, this infrastructure is unevenly distributed in the city.


Some stakeholders have noted that changes have occurred in the social fabric of neighbourhoods since the start of the health crisis. These changes include:

  • The suspension or reorganization of certain public services (schools, libraries, childcare centres, etc.), [28] which previously contributed to community life, requiring families and individuals to make adjustments to their daily lives.
  • Reduced ability to meet certain basic needs, leading many families and individuals to use food banks.
  • The implementation of health measures, with their effects on social life and feelings of isolation, that limit physical contact among youth and adults alike. Recall that in the April 2020 survey of Quebecers’ mental health during the pandemic conducted for the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation, 51% of respondents had difficulty dealing with not having contact with family members or friends. In addition, 38% said they felt lonelier, and 42% of parents said they had observed loneliness in their children. [29]
  • The deepening digital divide for those who do not own computer equipment for taking part in activities that have moved online. In Québec, 18% of girls and 28% of boys aged 14 to 29 do not own a cell phone, and half of all young people do not own a portable computer. [30]


A number of concerns regarding neighbourhood of residence have emerged out of the current situation. Below are just a few.



One direct effect of the health crisis is to make neighbourhoods more vulnerable, both in terms of the families living in them and their normal service infrastructures. Local stakeholders will thus have to deal with new realities and, potentially, new vulnerabilities.

In certain neighbourhoods, local stakeholders may have been able to quickly mobilize to counter the effects of the health crisis in their communities; however, neighbourhoods with fewer local stakeholders or that have been more significantly affected (by closures in particular) may have experienced an erosion of the social safety net for vulnerable groups.

These new realities vary among neighbourhoods and among neighbourhood networks, and they may have changed numerous factors that directly affect families.

It is possible that in certain neighbourhoods, the accumulation of negative impacts has increased the area’s material and social poverty, exacerbating the existing vulnerabilities.


Crises tend to bring socioeconomic issues into focus, as was revealed by a Radio-Canada investigation on the correlation between key propagation zones and the ethnic populations of Côte-des-Neiges and Montréal-Nord. [31]

Montreal’s public health department has also put the spotlight on gender-based inequalities associated with the pandemic, with women being more affected than men (as of June 16, 2020, women accounted for 58% of all confirmed cases), in particular among healthcare workers. [32]

Certain structural inequalities could deepen and compromise social cohesion throughout Quebec, as noted by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse.[33]

“It is also recognized that certain groups are more likely to find themselves in particularly difficult situations; these include single-parent families, people living alone, the homeless, drug users, immigrants, refugees, Indigenous people, and people with physical, intellectual or mental-health disabilities.” [34]


It is important to remember that fundamentally, a family’s involvement in a community can be influenced by people’s ability to see themselves as part of it, and to have the skills, time, and energy to reflect on community life. So family characteristics (risk factors, vulnerable living conditions, single-parenthood, chronic illness) will have an impact on social cohesion.


We know that in poorer neighbourhoods, children and youth are more at risk of dropping out, and that strong social cohesion acts as a safety net for these same children and youth. [35] The health crisis could have the effect of mobilizing certain members of the community to strengthen their social cohesion.

It is conceivable that the health crisis has fostered the emergence of new forms of neighbourhood solidarity, through social networks, for example. These new solidarities could increase a neighbourhood’s social cohesion and potentially improve support for families.

These new dynamics could protect children and youth against the disruptions of the health crisis; it remains to be seen whether they will persist.


The crisis may also contribute to deteriorating social bonds, further reducing the level of social cohesion in certain areas.

New rules of behaviour brought about by social distancing could upset a neighbourhood’s balance during the lockdown.

A survey conducted in April by the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation on the mental health of Quebecers during the COVID-19 crisis revealed that 17% of respondents did not always comply with lockdown rules, in particular with the ban on going outside every day, and on visiting family and friends. [36]

Disparities in behaviours with respect to health orders are dependent on access to reliable and available sources of information and on one’s comfort level with risk, which are different from person to person or from community to community, and no doubt on many other factors.

These differences in understanding are likely to have created tension in neighbourhoods, though the gradual lifting of the lockdown may have eased them.


In Montreal, certain less advantaged neighbourhoods have a rich social fabric thanks, in part, to joint projects by local community organizations and schools and/or to the mobilization of local consulting groups.

Initiatives and actions for community members contribute to the development of a collective sense of belonging and pride that can counteract the effects of material poverty [37] and help, for instance, the community better support children and youth in their schooling. The health crisis has forced a rethinking of such actions, and intersectoral committees have been created in most Montreal neighbourhoods to find new solutions.

In spite of insufficient resources and a limited understanding of the situation, new local initiatives have emerged to counter the negative effects of the health crisis through the involvement of various stakeholders and through local campaigns. These include programs to provide nutritional and psychological support and to maintain social connections with people in vulnerable situations.

On the other hand, pre-crisis initiatives have had difficulty reaching certain vulnerable families and youth, in particular due to the breaking of physical links between families and the school or community organizations. And for still others, the health crisis has forced a complete closure of their services, creating an imbalance in the neighbourhood’s social fabric.

The health crisis has put a spotlight on the challenge of reaching isolated populations and on the importance of local stakeholders in strengthening neighbourhood social cohesion.


Special attention should be paid to new vulnerabilities brought about by the pandemic, both in the poorest neighbourhoods and in more well-off neighbourhoods. Families made vulnerable by the crisis will need special support to overcome their new circumstances.

However, isolation due to health measures is complicating the work of educational and community stakeholders in properly identifying and supporting such families and young people.

An additional difficulty is that, for such families, these new vulnerabilities may not be fully understood either by local stakeholders or in fact by the families themselves. Given that their needs may appear minimal compared with other families living in vulnerable situations, it may therefore be difficult to identify such families, thereby compounding the effect.

Our thanks to Marie-Lyne Brunet, Director – Community Impact, Social Development, Centraide of Greater Montreal, and to Mario Régis, Vice-president – Social Development, Centraide of Greater Montreal, for their contribution to the article on the determinant “neighbourhood of residence.”

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[1] Janosz M., 2000, “L’abandon scolaire chez les adolescents: perspective nord-américaine,” VEI Enjeux, 122, September 2000.
[2] Hattie J., 2009, Visible learning. A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement, New York: Routledge.
[3] Réseau réussite Montréal, “Poverty”,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Réunir Réussir, Fact Sheets , 2013. Available at
[6] INSPQ, 2020, “COVID-19: la résilience et la cohésion sociale des communautés pour favoriser la santé mentale et le bien-être,” p 5. Available at
[7] Réunir Réussir, Fact Sheets , 2013. Available at
[9] Ibid.
[10] RRM, “A Fundamental Strategy,”
[11] Statistics Canada, 2017, “Municipalities in Canada with the largest and fastest-growing populations between 2011 and 2016.” Available at
[12]Réseau réussite Montréal, “Poverty”,
[14] Statistics Canada, 2016 Census, Centraide
[15] Ville de Montréal. (2018). Répartition des logements sociaux et communautaires sur l’île de Montréal. Available at
[16] Foundation of Greater Montreal, 2020. Vital Signs of Greater Montreal 2020: Portrait de 2000 à 2019, p.13. Available at
[17] Pierre Tircher and Nicolas Zorn (2020), “Inégaux face au coronavirus: constats et recommandations,” Montréal, Observatoire québécois des inégalités. [translated excerpt]
[18] Centre Léa-Roback, 2007. Le point sur… l’effet du quartier: Mieux comprendre le lien entre le quartier et la santé. Available at
[19] INSPQ, 2020. COVID-19: la résilience et la cohésion sociale des communautés pour favoriser la santé mentale et le bien-être, p.6. Available at
[20] Pierre Tircher and Nicolas Zorn (2020), “Inégaux face au coronavirus: constats et recommandations,” Montréal, Observatoire québécois des inégalités
[21] Ariane Jasmin, 2017. Le travail précaire, les femmes et le droit. Master’s thesis for the faculty of law of Université de Montréal, pp.72–73 and 92. Available at
[22] Pierre Tircher and Nicolas Zorn (2020), “Inégaux face au coronavirus: constats et recommandations,” Montréal, Observatoire québécois des inégalités. [translated excerpt]
[23] CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, June 2020. Inégaux face à la pandémie. Available at
[27] Réseau réussite Montréal, 2019. 2018–2019 Annual Report. Available at
[32] Direction régionale de santé publique de Montréal, June 16, 2020. Situation report: Island of Montréal, its boroughs and linked city. Available at
[33] Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, 2020. “Social and racial inequalities amplified by the health crisis in some neighbourhoods, deplores the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse” Available at
[34] CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, 2017. “La pauvreté et les inégalités, de graves menaces à la santé des populations: Mémoire des directeurs de santé publique de Montréal et de la Capitale-Nationale.” [translated excerpt] Available at
[35] See determinant fact sheet
[37]See determinant fact sheet