Segregation and Health in Atlanta: Part One

Before reading this article, I suggest reading our Introduction to BLKHLTH article which gives some definitions and an explanation of terms used in this article.

Part 1: Introduction and Measurement


Residential segregation by race has been named a fundamental cause of health disparities. Research has found associations between residential segregation and adult mortality, infant mortality, poor birth outcomes, and self-rated health. This relationship between residential segregation and health is more prominent when considering the interaction between racial and income segregation. Often residential segregation creates pockets of minority, low-resource communities. The pathways linking residential segregation are numerous and interconnected; the effects of racism, the distribution of resources including wealth, employment, and social capital, the context and quality of the segregated neighborhoods, and access to medical care are all effected by levels of segregation.

Atlanta, Georgia has experienced residential segregation on a wide spread level. With one of the highest populations of African Americans in the United States, the city ranks in the top 25 for two measures of segregations. Additionally, blacks in Georgia experience higher rates of poor health outcomes, including, years of potential life lost, higher infant mortality rates, higher rates of breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, AIDS/HIV prevalence, and low birthweight. This four-part series will explain the history of segregation in Atlanta and its impacts on black-white health disparities.

Measuring Residential Segregation

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In general terms, residential segregation is the degree to which two or more groups live separately from one another in the context of a defined urban space and the process that creates the differential distribution of people. This definition, however, does not encompass the complexity related to the actual manifestation of segregation; groups can be segregated in a variety of ways. Within the residential segregation literature, researchers have debated which distribution characteristics most accurately describe residential segregation and which indices correctly measure segregation. Massey and Denton completed an extensive search to identify different measures of segregation and found five prominent dimensions of segregation: evenness, exposure, concentration, centralization, and clustering. The table below defines the different distribution characteristics and measurement strategies related to segregation. 

The most common index used to measure segregation is the dissimilarity index. This measurement of evenness assesses representation and spatial distribution of groups on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, with the more segregated urban areas receiving higher scores.  Generally, a dissimilarity index value above 0.60 is thought to represent extremely high segregation. It should be noted that, although the five spatial dimensions of segregation is an empirical concept residential segregation incorporates each of the five underlying aspects of spatial variation defined in the above table. Individuals can experience multiple forms of segregation simultaneously. 

Check back for Segregation and Health in Atlanta: Part 2 - The History of Segregation in The United States

Matthew, BLKHLTH