Exploring Walking Differences by Socioeconomic Status Using a Spatial Agent-Based Model

This simulation suggests that increases in walking arising from people of lower socioeconomic status (SES) feeling more positive about activity are difficult to maintain unless the environment is safe. Efforts to increase safety most effectively support walking in mixed-use neighborhoods.

Walking is one of the easiest ways to increase people’s health and physical activity. But people of lower SES are known to generally walk less, compared to people of higher SES, and to walk more for transportation than recreational purposes. In this study, researchers used a previously developed computational simulation to examine the interplay of two factors on the amount of walking by lower SES people: 1) improving the attitude of people toward walking, and 2) improving pedestrian safety. Researchers also examined whether the impact of these factors varied depending on the land use pattern of the environment.

Key Findings:

  • In this model, the increase in walking that initially arises from improving the attitude toward walking of people of lower SES deteriorates over time unless other factors in the environment, such as safety, are modeled to support walking.
  • Improving the safety factor in the model is most potent at increasing walking among lower SES persons when the land-use of the neighborhood is most varied.
  • Although at baseline the favorable attitudes toward walking among persons of higher and lower SES were equal, their attitudes diverged over time; people of higher SES increased their favorable attitude and people of lower SES lowered their favorable attitude. The feedback loops from the walking experience were working in opposite directions.

The authors note that this simulation is limited by data and the number of factors and dynamics included. They believe these model results can provide evidence, along with other methods such as observational studies, to begin to understand the complex matrix of factors that can increase walking among people of lower SES.