Poverty, affluence, and income inequality: neighborhood economic structure and its implications for health

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Sep;57(5):843-60. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00457-4.


In this paper, we attempt to verify that neighborhood economic structure influences individual health over and above other individual characteristics, and to comparatively evaluate the effects of neighborhood concentrated affluence, concentrated poverty and income inequality in relation to individual health in the USA. We also explore physical environment, health-enhancing services, social hazards (crime) and social resources as mechanisms operating at the neighborhood level that may help to explain the influence of structural economic conditions on health. We use Hierarchical Ordinal Logit Models to examine a rich multi-level data set. Results indicate that affluence exerts significant contextual effects on self-rated health while poverty and income inequality at the neighborhood level are not important structural factors. Moreover, we find that a composite measure of social resources distinguishes itself in both explaining the impact of concentrated affluence and exerting an independent contextual effect on individual health. Physical environment, or the level of physical disorder in the neighborhood, also mediates the effect of affluence on self-rated health, although to a lesser degree than social resources. Our empirical findings suggest that different dimensions of economic structure do not in fact have unique and additive contributions to individual health; the presence of affluent residents is essential to sustain neighborhood social organization which in turn positively affect health.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Cultural Deprivation
  • Female
  • Health Resources / supply & distribution
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Income / classification*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty Areas*
  • Residence Characteristics / classification*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology