Gentrification is a dynamic process that changes the physical, economic, social, and cultural characteristics of historically underserved neighborhoods. This neighborhood transition process can improve the material and environmental circumstances of some residents and bring forth harmful consequences such as heightened financial stress and residential displacement for other community members. The subsequent impact of gentrification on population health is understudied, and little is known about how gentrification influences the mental wellness of residents.
This dissertation advances the small but growing literature on the relationship between gentrification and adult mental health. Using multiple data sources, we identified Southern California neighborhoods that gentrified between 2010 and 2015 and investigated the impact of living in a gentrified neighborhood on mental health distress. Econometric techniques such as instrumental variables estimation and propensity score analyses were applied to reduce bias arising from residential selection and reverse causality.
The first study compared three quantitative approaches for identifying gentrified neighborhoods and demonstrated that each approach generated a different set of results. Findings highlighted the importance of the strategy used for identifying gentrified neighborhoods, especially when assessing gentrification’s effects on health outcomes. The second study used five years of pooled data from the California Health Interview Survey to examine the causal relationship between gentrification and adult mental health. Relative to living in a low-income and not gentrified neighborhood, living in a gentrified neighborhood was associated with increased likelihood of serious psychological distress among longtime residents, renters, and people with low incomes. In the third study, we evaluated reasons for moving between residents who moved within gentrified and not gentrified neighborhoods and found evidence that people in gentrified neighborhoods were more likely to experience within-neighborhood displacement. Residents who experienced within-neighborhood displacement had greater likelihoods of having serious psychological distress.
Taken together, findings suggest that gentrification imposes a mental health cost on longtime residents and the most financially vulnerable residents, which has important implications for population health. By elevating levels of mental health distress of population groups who are already disproportionately exposed to stressors, gentrification can exacerbate mental health inequities.