Abstract: Psychological Cost of Racial Discrimination: The Role of Residential Segregation (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Psychological Cost of Racial Discrimination: The Role of Residential Segregation

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 8:30 AM
Union Square 25 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Bongki Woo, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Wen Fan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Thanh Tran, PhD, Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill,, MA
David Takeuchi, PhD, Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background and Purpose

Racial discrimination is an important risk factor that leads to negative mental health status among racial/ethnic minorities. Previous efforts to identify moderators of the link between racial discrimination and mental health have often been limited to individual-level factors. The present study examines the interaction between racial discrimination and residential environment to elucidate the contexts that may lead to racial disparities in health. We focus on residential segregation of racial/ethnic minorities vis-à-vis non-Hispanic Whites, which has been identified as a fundamental factor that perpetuates health disparities by race. We contribute to the literature by testing two theoretical perspectives on the role of residential segregation. One is the place stratification perspective, which posits that residential segregation exposes minority groups to poverty, disadvantage and social deprivation, which are detrimental to health. The other is the place assimilation perspective, which argues that sociocultural resources that are health-beneficial are concentrated in segregated ethnic communities. The present study additionally investigates difference by nativity status, given that the foreign-born tend to be more segregated from the non-Hispanic Whites than are their U.S.-born counterparts.


The data were obtained from the National Latino and Asian American Study and the U.S. Census. The sample consisted of 1,926 Asians and 2,378 Latinxes residing in metropolitan areas across the country. The dependent variable is psychological distress, and key independent variables are racial discrimination and residential segregation from non-Hispanic Whites, measured by dissimilarity and interaction indices. We conduct logistic regression analyses with standard errors clustered at the metropolitan level to investigate the independent and joint contributions of racial discrimination and residential segregation on psychological distress.


Higher residential segregation is associated with lower odds of psychological distress among U.S.-born Asians, but not among Asian immigrants or Latinxes regardless of nativity. For both Asians and Latinxes, racial discrimination is associated with higher odds of psychological distress. The results of the interaction terms between racial discrimination and residential segregation indicate that higher residential segregation exacerbates the positive association between discrimination and psychological distress among Asian and Latinx immigrants, but not among their U.S.-born counterparts.

Conclusions and Implications

The present study moves beyond existing studies that typically focus on individual-level factors by highlighting the need to incorporate environmental or neighborhood-based approaches to improve racial and ethnic health disparities. While living among co-ethnics may decrease contacts with the mainstream, it is associated with better mental health among native-born Asian Americans. However, for foreign-born Asians and Latinxes, the segregation from non-Hispanic Whites poses additional psychological burden of racial discrimination, which may, in turn, exacerbate racial/ethnic health disparities. The present study provides support for the efforts to decrease segregation, particularly among immigrants who are being discriminated. These efforts may include the mitigation of stereotypes and prejudice against immigrants, the amelioration of discriminative policies that discourage immigrants’ residential mobility, and the promotion of social capital and coping resources in highly segregated areas.