Segregated cities mean higher death rates

October 20, 1999

ANN ARBOR---Living in cities with high levels of racial segregation is linked to higher death rates for whites as well as Blacks, according to a study in the current issue of Sociological Forum.

For the study, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley examined the link between residential segregation and mortality in 107 U.S. cities with a population of at least 100,000 and a Black population of at least 10 percent.

Leading the list of segregated cities are Atlanta, Ga.; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Chicago, Ill.; and Gary, Ind. The least segregated cities, as measured by the index of Black social isolation used in the study, are Sacramento, Calif.; Long Beach, Calif.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Aurora, Colo..

Their analysis correlates national mortality and U.S. Census data with two different measures of Black residential isolation from whites, showing that residential segregation is linked with higher rates of mortality for both Blacks and whites, and that the more segregated the city, the stronger the association.

In Atlanta, Ga., for example, the death rate (per 100,000 population) for Black males is 1,369.2 and for white males 895.6, while in Aurora, Colo., the death rate for Black males is 397.6 and for white males 177.7.

"It's not that living next to someone of your own race is bad for your health," says Chiquita Collins, the Berkeley scholar who is the first author of the paper. "The problem is the concentration of poverty and disadvantage associated with high levels of segregation."

The co-author of the paper is David R. Williams, senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research and professor of sociology.

Collins and Williams found that the effect of segregation on mortality varied by cause of death, with deaths from cancer most strongly linked to levels of segregation.

Approximately one-third of the cities studied had extreme levels of Black isolation, and in these cities, mortality rates among both Black and white residents were especially high, from all causes.

"Racial residential segregation has long been known to adversely affect the quality of life for Blacks," says Williams. "This study adds to a small but growing body of research showing that it also increases susceptibility to illness and death, not only for Blacks but also for whites.

"This finding is important because it suggests that the poor living conditions associated with very high levels of segregation are costly for the entire society."

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

University of Michigan

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