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Political fragmentation and widening disparities in African-American and white mortality, 1972-1988.

  • Author(s): Kim, Yonsu
  • Bruckner, Tim A
  • et al.
Abstract

During the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S., population movement, urban sprawl and urban governance reform led to a proliferation of local, autonomous jurisdictions. Prior literature examines how this creation of local governments, also referred to as political fragmentation, contributes to economic growth and social inequality. We examine the impact of political fragmentation on health equity by testing the hypothesis that the mortality disparity between whites and African-Americans varies positively with political fragmentation.We retrieved mortality data from the multiple cause-of-death file and calculated total number of local governments per 1000 residents in a county to measure the degree of political fragmentation. We focused on 226 U.S. counties with population size greater than 200,000 and restricted the analysis to four distinct periods with overlapping government and mortality data (1972-73, 1977-78, 1982-83, and 1987-88). We applied generalized estimating equation methods that permit analysis of clustered data over time. Methods also controlled for the age structure of the population, reductions in mortality over time, and confounding by county-level sociodemographic variables.Adjusted coefficients of fragmentation are positive and statistically significant for both whites (coef: 2.60, SE: 0.60, p<0.001) and African-Americans (coef: 5.31, SE: 1.56, p<0.001). The two-fold larger positive coefficient for African-Americans than for whites indicates a greater racial disparity in mortality among more politically fragmented urban counties and/or time periods.From 1972 to 1988, political fragmentation in large urban counties moves positively with the racial/ethnic gap in mortality between whites and African-Americans. We discuss intervening mechanisms through which political fragmentation may disproportionately affect mortality among African-Americans.

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