Subjective and Objective Neighborhood Characteristics and Adult Health

This study considers the effect of a neighborhood's conditions—both perceived and objective—on the health of its residents. The results show that perceived or subjective neighborhood conditions may be more relevant to residents' health than objective ones.

The relationship between neighborhoods and the health of their residents has been gaining renewed interest from people in a variety of disciplines, including anthropologists, urban planners and public health experts. This study examines the associations between objective neighborhood conditions such as income, education attainment and employment status of residents; subjective or perceived neighborhood quality such as pollution, safety and upkeep; socio-demographic factors and self-rated health. Data were collected from 1,509 respondents on perceived neighborhood quality from Wave IV (2001–2002) of the Americans Changing Lives study and then merged with census data.

Key Findings:

  • The relationship between objective neighborhood disadvantage and health is smaller than the relationship between perceived neighborhood quality and health.
  • Neighborhood affluence and perceived neighborhood quality are both strongly associated with health.
  • The perceived neighborhood quality was not significantly affected by the presence of recreational facilities.
  • Blacks were much more likely to live in a neighborhood with disadvantage and were less likely to positively describe the environmental conditions.

These results have important implications for how researchers might evaluate neighborhood conditions in the future. They demonstrate the importance of considering both subjective and objective measures, since subjective measures may be more significant than objective ones.