Measuring The Enduring Imprint Of Structural Racism On American Neighborhoods

Zachary Dyer, Matthew J. Alcusky, Sandro Galea, and Arlene Ash

A long history of discriminatory policies in the United States has created disparities in neighborhood resources that shape ethnoracial health inequities today. To quantify these differences, we organized publicly available data on forty-two variables at the census tract level within nine domains affected by structural racism: built environment, criminal justice, education, employment, housing, income and poverty, social cohesion, transportation, and wealth. Using data from multiple sources at several levels of geography, we developed scores in each domain, as well as a summary score that we call the Structural Racism Effect Index. We examined correlations with life expectancy and other measures of health for this index and other commonly used area-based indices. The Structural Racism Effect Index was more strongly associated with each health outcome than were the other indices. Its domain and summary scores can be used to describe differences in social risk factors, and they provide powerful new tools to guide policies and investments to advance health equity.