In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made racial and ethnic housing discrimination illegal in the United States. Despite this legislative achievement, most major American cities are still highly segregated by race. Residential segregation is particularly stark for Black Americans. This is not a neutral fact.
Extensive research has demonstrated that racial/ethnic residential segregation is related to poor health outcomes for these communities. Individuals who live in minority segregated communities are sicker throughout their lives and die younger. These health outcomes are largely the result of myriad social and public health injustices faced by communities of color such as poor housing stock/conditions, concentrated poverty, higher rates of crime, vacant and vandalized buildings, and lack of access to health-promoting resources.
Research on the relationship between segregation and health is less clear for other groups, such as Latinos and Asians. On the one hand, Latino and Asian communities have become increasingly segregated since 1968. And, over time, Latinos in particular have had less opportunity for residential and socio-economic mobility. This suggests that we would expect to see negative effects of segregation on health for these groups, similar to what we observe for Black segregated neighborhoods.
On the other hand, other research has found that residential segregation alone for Latino and Asian communities does not produce the same effects as it does for Black communities because, often, the underlying motivations are different. This difference is especially pronounced for immigrant enclaves, or neighborhoods with geographically concentrated immigrant ethnic groups. Researchers argue that these neighborhoods may be beneficial environments as they are often the site of flourishing social support networks, entrepreneurship, and a robust economy.
Of course, many Latinos and Asians within the United States are not immigrants. Only about 34% of the Latino population is foreign born, and about 59% of Asians are foreign born according to recent census data from the American Community Survey.
Our work suggests that the factors driving residential segregation may be what matters most for the relationship between residential segregation and health outcomes within communities of color.
My colleague and I set out to disentangle the relationship between residential segregation and immigrant concentration. In particular, we examined how segregation and concentration differentially contribute to health patterns across neighborhoods in Houston, Texas.
We combined survey data on individuals from the 2009–2014 Kinder Houston Area Survey with demographic data on neighborhoods from the 2010 US Census and the 2006–2010 American Community Survey. We were especially interested in understanding how levels of neighborhood residential segregation and immigration relates to individual self-evaluations of general poor health.
For Latino communities, we found that the effect of residential segregation depends on the level of immigration. Where immigration was high in a neighborhood, Latinos in highly segregated neighborhoods reported better health. This finding is fitting with the immigrant enclave perspective. However, where immigration levels were low in a neighborhood, Latinos in highly segregated neighborhoods reported worse health. These patterns in health more closely resemble those of Black segregated neighborhoods. We found no pattern for Asian segregation. In other words, patterns of immigration and segregation seem to be unrelated to health in Asian communities.
Our work suggests that the factors driving residential segregation may be what matters most for the relationship between residential segregation and health outcomes within communities of color. Black residential segregation was historically and often continues to be driven by residential discrimination, racism, and a desire to maintain social distance between groups. A similar process may be what is happening in some non-immigrant Latino communities, contributing to poor health. However, the patterns diverge for predominantly immigrant Latino communities. Their concentration in certain neighborhoods may be driven by personal choice and selective association, which may be beneficial for health.
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