Archive for the ‘Demography’ Category

The One Percent: A Culture of Poverty?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Most sociologists have focused on the poor. Speculating here, there may be several reasons for this. They are perceived as being a major problem for society, there are a lot of them, and they are relatively easy to study: they are often powerless to resist being poked and prodded and put under a microscope.

But what about the very rich?  From warping politics to skewing US society toward greater inequality, they are a group that has had a profound impact on US society. But they are relatively opaque. We know little about how and why they behave the way they do and what might  be the implications of their behaviors. At the very minimum, they seem to be profoundly unhappy and feel they are unappreciated lately.

So one project I am working on is to use the frameworks of analysis used to understand the poor as a means to analyze the wealthy. Te results, which should be ready for publication in the spring, are very interesting and potentially informative for public policy.

Children in cities

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

For my follow up to my book on the history of using architecture and health to promote health (see Building American Public Health: Urban Planning, Architecture and the Quest for Better Public Health in the United States), I am working on a book on the history of children in US cities. It’s going to interesting. For one thing, children are very sensitive to the envieprinmental conditions around them.  Changes in social policy as well as health and environmental problems can have a profound impact on them. From th rise of US cities in the nineteenth century to changes in welfare policy in the twentieth, children have seen important changes in their living conditions

Some of the topics I intend to address include: child labor, infectious diseases, schools and segregation, environmental diseases, and obesity and the issue of whether children should live in cities at all. I am deep into the research and writing of this book.

The Relationship Between Rural Status, Individual Characteristics, and Self-Rated Health in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The Journal of Rural Health


The Relationship Between Rural Status, Individual Characteristics, and Self-Rated Health in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System


  1. Traci N. Bethea PhD1,
  2. Russell P. Lopez DSc2,
  3. Yvette C. Cozier DSc1,3,
  4. Laura F. White PhD4,
  5. Michael D. McClean ScD5


Article first published online: 31 MAY 2012





  • Epidemiology;
  • health disparities;
  • obesity;
  • self-rated health;
  • social determinants of health


Abstract Purpose: To examine rural status and social factors as predictors of self-rated health in community-dwelling adults in the United States.


Methods: This study uses multinomial logistic and cumulative logistic models to evaluate the associations of interest in the 2006 US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a cross-sectional survey of 347,709 noninstitutionalized adults.


Findings: Self-rated health was poorer among rural residents, compared to urban residents (OR = 1.77, 95% CI: 1.54, 1.90). However, underlying risk factors such as obesity, low income, and low educational attainment were found to vary by rural status and account for the observed increased risk (OR = 1.03, 95% CI: 0.94, 1.12). There was little evidence of effect modification by rural status, though the association between obesity and self-rated health was stronger among urban residents (OR = 2.50, 95% CI: 2.38, 2.64) than among rural residents (OR = 2.18, 95% CI: 2.03, 2.34).


Conclusions: Our findings suggest that differences in self-rated health by rural status were attributable to differential distributions of participant characteristics and not due to differential effects of those characteristics.

Does mixed income make for better people and communities?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

When the American Planning Association met in Boston in 2011, one of the tours included a stop at the housing complex where I live.  It’s a fairly large development for Boston, almost 200 units on an entire city block with 1/3 of the units with Section 8 certificates (for low income families),  1/3 having deed restrictions making them affordable for moderate income households, and 1/3 being sold at market rate.  I came across the tour in the open space in the middle of the development.  I could tell from their badges they were with the APA,  and my curiosity led me to ask what they were doing there.  The nice person first patiently explained they  were with the APA, I counted with my APA conference badge.  Then I was told they were there to see examples of affordable housing.  When I told them I was both a planner and a resident, they peppered me with questions.

It is dangerous to talk about a book one hasn’t read, but Charles Murray’s new book, Falling Apart, has been getting a lot of press and I do intend to read it  His thesis is that higher income, college educated people are isolating themselves from the poor and less educated and as a result, social disorganization and risk behaviors are increasing.  Murray apparently carefully avoids any economic analysis or discussion of the loss of manufacturing jobs and blames this rise of disorganization on the lack of contact between the two groups.  He supposedly suggests that the upper income people move out of their enclaves and live in poorer communities.

This is not a new idea.  It has been a goal of US social policy at least since the 1930s when urban renewal was proposed as a way to break up poor (and often African American) communities.  It was also a goal of the 1990s HOPE VI program.  The idea is that the poor suffer from what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called a culture of poverty.  The poor are impoverished because they adapt and pass on these bad behaviors to the children.  The solution is to have them live near non-poor families with healthy work and social habits.  They will learn to behave better. Some other suggest that they will also be able to benefit from informal networks of job seeking and improve their economic status as well.

Armed with the knowledge (not from the book – it didn’t come out until months later), the APA tour people wanted to know how much interaction there is between the various income groups in my complex. The units are mixed throughout the complex and our market unit is above a moderate income unit and between two Section 8 units, for example. The answer as to the degree of interaction is that there is some but not a lot.  We all pretty much know each other by first name, open doors for each other, hold children when they might get stuck in an elevator and smile at each other.  But there is not a lot of other sharing.  Most people live privately.

One interesting, if unstudied outcome is what contact with the poor might do for middle and upper income political beliefs.  I would think  that a review of voting records might show that the influence flows from the poor to the wealthy.  Upper income people who live in mixed income environments are more likely to vote for liberal social policies.  Mr. Murray may not like that.

One final question did bring everyone in the complex together, a uniformity of response when I told various neighbors about it.  I was asked if residents keep their doors opened and unlocked so that people might visit each other by just walking in, uninvited.  Everyone I told about the question, upper income, moderate income, and subsidized, couldn’t stop laughing at the naiveté of that question.  As one (Section 8) neighbor said as she was laughing so hard that her eyes teared up, don’t those people know we are in New England, no one is that friendly to anyone

Demographic changes

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The New York Times and other media had articles yesterday about how the US population is changing.  According to a report by the Brookings Institute, written by William Frey, ten states had a majority minority population in 2010, up from four in 2000 and more are on the way.  The US under 18 population is soon going to be  majority minority and the overall population will reach that landmark sometime before 2040 or so. The changes are being driven primarily by the increase in Hispanic children, particularly Mexican children (many of these children are now second or third generation).

No one knows what this might mean for  the health of US cities.  The problem will not be assimilation on the part of these children.  Studies show that by the third generation, speaking Spanish is lost.  These kids are as American as can be.

A greater problem is the accommodation of the larger US society.  Can we get these kids into college?  Good paying jobs?  Will they be able to access the better jobs , and become part of the decision making infrastructure of our country.  Except for a handful of mayors over the years (San Antonio, San Jose, and Los Angeles) and a few governors and senators, few Latinos have reached the higher reaches of politics.  Major foundations are run by non-Latinos, few Fortune 500 companies have Latino heads, etc.  This does not bode well for the future.