The neighborhood context of relative position, trust, and self-rated health

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jul;73(1):42-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.014. Epub 2011 May 27.


The relative position hypothesis proposes that an individual's relative position in a community or population influences their health because (1) unfavorable comparisons lead those with a lower position to experience negative emotions that cause stress and detrimentally impact health and well-being, and (2) individuals with different statuses are less likely to develop trust and cohesion with one another. These processes are important for individual health and also because their results may detract from community level social resources. Surprisingly little work has investigated this hypothesis within small units of analysis such as neighborhoods. In this research, logistic regression analyses were conducted on data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey to test the relative position hypothesis as it applies to distrust of neighbors and fair or poor self-rated health, and whether the relationship varies across neighborhood income inequality. Results indicate that relative position significantly predicts distrust, such that those with higher local position are more likely to distrust their comparatively lower income neighbors. Relative position was not significantly associated with self-rated health, but lack of trust of neighbors was significantly and positively associated with below average self-rated health. The effect of relative position did not vary across neighborhood income inequality for either outcome. Implications for theories of income inequality and health are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Self Report*
  • Social Class
  • Trust*