This study provides an empirical test of two mechanisms (social capital and exposure to air pollution) that are theorized to mediate the effect of neighborhood on health and contribute to racial disparities in health outcomes. To this end, we utilize the Social Capital Benchmark Study, a national survey of individuals nested within communities in the United States, to estimate how multiple dimensions of social capital and exposure to air pollution, explain racial disparities in self-rated health. Our main findings show that when controlling for individual-confounders, and nesting within communities, our indicator of cognitive bridging, generalized trust, decreases the gap in self-rated health between African Americans and Whites by 84%, and the gap between Hispanics and Whites by 54%. Our other indicator of cognitive social capital, cognitive linking as represented by engagement in politics, decreases the gap in health between Hispanics and Whites by 32%, but has little impact on African Americans. We also assessed whether the gap in health was explained by respondents’ estimated exposure to toxicity-weighted air pollutants from large industrial facilities over the previous year. Our results show that accounting for exposure to these toxins has no effect on the racial gap in self-rated health in these data. This paper contributes to the neighborhood effects literature by examining the impact that estimated annual industrial air pollution, and multiple measures of social capital, have on explaining the racial gap in health in a sample of individuals nested within communities across the United States.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited