Unfair treatment, neighborhood effects, and mental health in the Detroit metropolitan area

J Health Soc Behav. 2000 Sep;41(3):314-32.


Why do racial differences in many indicators of mental and emotional well-being show inconsistent patterns? We propose that mental and emotional well-being are influenced by aspects of the social context, including experiences of unfair treatment and the concentration of households with incomes below the poverty level, and that differential exposure to these factors influences racial differences in mental well-being. We analyze the reporting of psychological distress and life satisfaction in a multistage area probability sample of 1,139 African American and white residents of the Detroit metropolitan area aged 18 and older. Both psychological distress and life satisfaction are significantly associated with exposure to unfair treatment and with the proportion of households in the census block group that were below the poverty level. Racial differences in psychological distress and life satisfaction were eliminated or reversed once differentials in the percent of households living below the poverty line and exposure to unfair treatment were accounted for. These findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that "race" effects operate through multiple pathways that include race-based residential segregation and its attendant economic disinvestment at the community level, and interpersonal experiences of unfair treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Prejudice*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Social Conditions
  • Urban Population
  • Whites