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Self-Rated Health and Structural Racism Indicated by County-Level Racial Inequalities in Socioeconomic Status: The Role of Urban-Rural Classification


Recent attention to the interrelationship between racism, socioeconomic status (SES) and health has led to a small, but growing literature of empirical work on the role of structural racism in population health. Area-level racial inequities in SES are an indicator of structural racism, and the associations between structural racism indicators and self-rated health are unknown. Further, because urban-rural differences have been observed in population health and are associated with different manifestations of structural racism, explicating the role of urban-rural classification is warranted. This study examined the associations between racial inequities in SES and self-rated health by county urban-rural classification. Using data from County Health Rankings and American Communities Surveys, black-white ratios of SES were regressed on rates of fair/poor health in U.S. counties. Racial inequities in homeownership were negatively associated with fair/poor health (β = −0.87, s.e. = 0.18), but racial inequities in unemployment were positively associated with fair/poor health (β = 0.03, s.e. = 0.01). The associations between structural racism and fair/poor health varied by county urban-rural classification. Potential mechanisms include the concentration of resources in racially segregated counties with high racial inequities that lead to better health outcomes, but are associated with extreme black SES disadvantage. Racial inequities in SES are a social justice imperative with implications for population health that can be targeted by urban-rural classification and other social contextual characteristics.

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This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections program (#74732, Principal Investigator—Caryn Bell).

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Correspondence to Caryn N. Bell.

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Neither Caryn Bell nor Jessica Owens- Young have any conflicts of interest.

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Bell, C.N., Owens-Young, J.L. Self-Rated Health and Structural Racism Indicated by County-Level Racial Inequalities in Socioeconomic Status: The Role of Urban-Rural Classification. J Urban Health 97, 52–61 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-019-00389-7

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  • Structural racism
  • Racial inequities
  • Rural. Urban
  • Self-rated health