School Racial Segregation and the Health of Black Children

Pediatrics. 2022 May 1;149(5):e2021055952. doi: 10.1542/peds.2021-055952.


Objectives: Few researchers have evaluated whether school racial segregation, a key manifestation of structural racism, affects child health, despite its potential impacts on school quality, social networks, and stress from discrimination. We investigated whether school racial segregation affects Black children's health and health behaviors.

Methods: We estimated the association of school segregation with child health, leveraging a natural experiment in which school districts in recent years experienced increased school segregation. School segregation was operationalized as the Black-White dissimilarity index. We used ordinary least squares models as well as quasi-experimental instrumental variables analysis, which can reduce bias from unobserved confounders. Data from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1997-2014, n = 1248 Black children) were linked with district-level school segregation measures. Multivariable regressions were adjusted for individual-, neighborhood-, and district-level covariates. We also performed subgroup analyses by child sex and age.

Results: In instrumental variables models, a one standard deviation increase in school segregation was associated with increased behavioral problems (2.53 points on a 27-point scale; 95% CI, 0.26 to 4.80), probability of having ever drunk alcohol (0.23; 95% CI, 0.049 to 0.42), and drinking at least monthly (0.20; 95% CI, 0.053 to 0.35). School segregation was more strongly associated with drinking behaviors among girls.

Conclusions: School segregation was associated with worse outcomes on several measures of well-being among Black children, which may contribute to health inequities across the life span. These results highlight the need to promote school racial integration and support Black youth attending segregated schools.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Black People
  • Black or African American*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Schools
  • Social Segregation*