Chicago Residents' Perceptions of Air Quality: Objective Pollution, the Built Environment, and Neighborhood Stigma Theory

Popul Environ. 2015 Sep;37(1):1-21. doi: 10.1007/s11111-014-0228-x. Epub 2014 Dec 12.


Substantial research documents higher pollution levels in minority neighborhoods, but little research evaluates how residents perceive their own communities' pollution risks. According to "Neighborhood stigma" theory, survey respondents share a cultural bias that minorities cause social dysfunction, leading to over-reports of dysfunction in minority communities. This study investigates perceptions of residential outdoor air quality by linking objective data on built and social environments with multiple measures of pollution and a representative survey of Chicago residents. Consistent with the scholarly narrative, results show air quality is rated worse where minorities and poverty are concentrated, even after extensive adjustment for objective pollution and built environment measures. Perceptions of air pollution may thus be driven by neighborhood socioeconomic position far more than by respondents' ability to perceive pollution. The finding that 63.5% of the sample reported excellent or good air quality helps to explain current challenging in promoting environmental action.