Alcohol and environmental justice: the density of liquor stores and bars in urban neighborhoods in the United States

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2007 Jan;68(1):48-55. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2007.68.48.


Objective: This study had two purposes: (1) to characterize the density of liquor stores and bars that individuals face according to race, economic status, and age in the urban United States and (2) to assess alternative measures of retailer density based on the road network and population.

Method: We used census data on business counts and sociodemographic characteristics to compute the densities facing individuals in 9,361 urban zip codes.

Results: Blacks face higher densities of liquor stores than do whites. The density of liquor stores is greater among nonwhites in lower-income areas than among whites in lower- and higher-income areas and nonwhites in higher-income areas. Nonwhite youths face higher densities of liquor stores than white youths. The density of liquor stores and bars is lower in higher-income areas, especially for nonwhites.

Conclusions: Mismatches between alcohol demand and the supply of liquor stores within urban neighborhoods constitute an environmental injustice for minorities and lower-income persons, with potential adverse consequences for drinking behavior and other social ills. Our results for bars are sensitive to the measure of outlet density as well as population density. Although neither measure is clearly superior, a measure that accounts for roadway miles may reflect proximity to alcohol retailers and thus serve as a useful refinement to the per-capita measure. If so, alcohol policy might also focus on density per roadway mile. Further research on the existence, causes, and consequences of environmental injustice in alcohol retailing is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcoholic Beverages*
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Population Density
  • Restaurants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Justice*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urbanization