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June 04, 2007

Neighborhood Segregation Influences Hispanics’ Health


While living in a highly segregated neighborhood is linked to more health problems for some minorities, ethnic enclaves may actually support better health for Mexican-Americans, according to a new study.

“Our results show that family and ethnic ties might be resourceful for Mexican Americans,” said sociologist Min-Ah Lee of Purdue University, who led the study published in the June issue of the American Sociological Association's Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The findings stem from 1990 U.S. Census data and responses to a survey of different Hispanic groups conducted from 1995 to 1996 in Chicago and New York City. Among the 400 survey participants, 167 were Puerto Ricans and 233 were Mexican-Americans.

Participants were asked how often they experience acute physical symptoms, such as headaches, chest pains and nausea, as well as about their ability to do daily living tasks.

Puerto Ricans who lived in ethnically isolated neighborhoods were more likely to have the acute physical symptoms versus Puerto Ricans who lived in communities that were less segregated.

The survey also revealed that Mexican-Americans in segregated areas had overall better health than their Puerto Rican counterparts. The health of Mexican-Americans in highly segregated neighborhoods also seems to improve with each generation.

The findings reveal that residential segregation has differing effects across Hispanic groups, the authors said.

Lee attributed some of the health advantages to informal health care and complementary or alternative medicine, such as herbal treatments like cactus, oregano, acupuncture and chiropractics.

The authors also suggest that the close knit social fabric of Mexican-American communities may protect residents from the poorer health suffered by other Hispanic groups who live in highly segregated neighborhoods. Strong family and community ties may make it easier for new members of the Mexican-American community to learn how to access health information, locate care providers and exchange resources, the authors write.

Adolph Falcon, vice president for Science and Policy for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, agreed that strong social ties play a role.

“Family, faith, culture and community have been shown to be critical factors in health and well-being,” he said.

Falcon said researchers will learn more from an upcoming National Institutes of Health study that will be the largest Hispanic community health study ever fielded, covering seven years, 16,000 Hispanics and costing $64 million. He said it promises new insights into the role of culture in health.

For more information contact Sujata Sinha of the American Sociological Association at (202) 247-9871 or ssinha@asanet.org or Health Behavior News Service: Lisa Esposito at (202) 387-2829 or hbns-editor@cfah.org

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The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is the quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.

About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.