Triple jeopardy: the joint impact of racial segregation and neighborhood poverty on the mental health of black Americans

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2019 May;54(5):533-541. doi: 10.1007/s00127-019-01654-5. Epub 2019 Jan 22.


Purpose: Because segregation may shield blacks from discrimination as well as increase their exposure to concentrated poverty, its net impact on the mental well-being of black Americans is unclear. We investigated the intersection between segregation, neighborhood poverty, race, and psychological well-being.

Methods: Using data from the nationally representative 2008-2013 National Health Interview Survey merged with U.S. Census data, we examined the association between black-white metropolitan segregation (D-index and P-index) and psychological distress (a binary indicator based on the Kessler 6 score ≥ 13) for blacks and whites. Furthermore, we assessed whether neighborhood poverty explains and/or modifies the association. Logistic regression models were estimated separately for blacks and whites as well as for each segregation index.

Results: Higher D- and P-indices were associated with higher odds of psychological distress for blacks. Neighborhood poverty explained some, but not all, of the association. In models that allowed for the impact of metropolitan segregation to vary by neighborhood poverty, higher segregation was found to be detrimental for blacks who resided in high poverty neighborhoods but not for those living in low poverty neighborhoods. We found no evidence that segregation impacts the mental health of whites-either detrimentally or beneficially-regardless of neighborhood poverty level.

Conclusions: The impact of segregation differs by neighborhood poverty and race. The psychological harm of structural racism, resulting in segregation and concentrated poverty, is not additive but multiplicative, reflecting a "triple jeopardy" for blacks, whereby their mental health is detrimentally impacted by the compounded effects of both neighborhood distress and racial segregation.

Keywords: Mental health; Neighborhood poverty; Racial segregation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health / ethnology
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / ethnology
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Segregation / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • White People / psychology