Metropolitan Fragmentation and Health Disparities: Is There a Link?

March 2012 | Malo André Hutson, George A. Kaplan, Nalini Ranjit, Mahasin S. Mujahid

Context: This article explores the relationship between metropolitan fragmentation, as defined by the total number of governmental units within a metropolitan statistical area (local municipalities, special service districts, and school districts), and racial disparities in mortality among blacks and whites in the 1990s. The presence of numerous governmental jurisdictions in large metropolitan areas in the United States can shape the geography of opportunity, with adverse consequences for health.

Methods: We conducted a regression analysis using U.S. Census of Government data and Compressed Mortality File data for the country’s largest 171 metropolitan statistical areas.

Findings: We found a link between increased metropolitan area fragmentation and greater racial differences in mortality between blacks and whites for both children and working-age adults. Although increasing fragmentation is associated with a higher mortality rate for blacks, it is not associated with a higher mortality rate for whites. These findings suggest that research is needed to understand how governance can positively or negatively influence a population’s health and create conditions that generate or exacerbate health disparities.

Conclusions: We need to understand the extent to which metropolitan fragmentation contributes to racial segregation, whether racism contributes to both, and the role of poverty and antipoverty policies in reducing or exacerbating the consequences of metropolitan fragmentation. The exact pathways by which metropolitan fragmentation contributes to differences between blacks’ and whites’ mortality rates are unknown. Uncovering how institutions influence the social, economic, and environmental conditions, which in turn contribute to the current racial and ethnic health disparities in the largest metropolitan areas, is key. Understanding these “upstream” determinants of a population’s health and the disparities in health between subgroups in the overall population must be at the core of any attempt to reduce disparities in health. Building bridges between urban planning and public health can be critical to these efforts.

Author(s): Malo André Hutson; George A. Kaplan; Nalini Ranjit; Mahasin S. Mujahid

Keywords: metropolitan fragmentation; health disparities; mortality; planning

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Volume 90, Issue 1 (pages 187–207)
DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2011.00659.x
Published in 2012