Neighborhood Segregation Influences Hispanics' Health

Armen Hareyan's picture
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While living in a highly segregated neighborhood relates to increased health problems for some minorities, ethnic enclaves might actually support better health for Mexican-Americans.

"Our results show that family and ethnic ties might be resourceful for Mexican-Americans," said sociologist Min-Ah Lee of Purdue University, who led the study published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The findings stem from 1990 U.S. Census data and responses to a survey of different Hispanic groups conducted from 1995 to 1996 in Chicago and New York City. Among the 400 survey participants, 167 were Puerto Ricans and 233 were Mexican Americans.

Participants answered questions about how often they experience acute physical symptoms, such as headaches, chest pains and nausea, as well as about their ability to perform daily living tasks.

Puerto Ricans who lived in ethnically isolated neighborhoods were more likely to have acute physical symptoms compared to Puerto Ricans who lived in less segregated communities.

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The survey also revealed that Mexican-Americans in segregated areas had overall better health than their Puerto Rican counterparts. The health of Mexican-Americans in highly segregated neighborhoods also seemed to improve with each generation.

The findings reveal that residential segregation has differing effects across Hispanic groups, the authors said.

The authors suggest that the close-knit social fabric of Mexican-American communities could protect residents from the poorer health suffered by other Hispanic groups who live in highly segregated neighborhoods. Strong family and community ties might make it easier for new members of the Mexican-American community to learn how to access health information, locate care providers and exchange resources, the authors write.

Adolph Falcon, vice president for Science and Policy for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, agreed that strong social ties play a role.

"Family, faith, culture and community have been shown to be critical factors in health and well-being," he said.

Falcon said researchers will learn more from an upcoming National Institutes of Health study that will be the largest Hispanic community health study ever fielded, covering seven years, 16,000 Hispanics and $64 million. He said it promises new insights into the role of culture in health.

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