January 1, 2012

With support from The California Endowment, the Center has conducted a study of disparities in life expectancy by census tract in California. The aim was to identify “outliers”—census tracts with disadvantaged conditions (e.g., poverty) that have higher life expectancy than would be predicted.  

Efforts to understand the causes and solutions of health inequities have focused traditionally on the role of social determinants of health but are increasingly exploring the local influence of place-based characteristics of neighborhoods and community environments.  From this work it is clear that health equity is influenced not only by individual and household characteristics such as educational attainment and income but also by conditions not under the control of individuals—housing stock, the built environment, the quality of local schools, food access, environmental pollutants, transportation services, and crime rates.  These conditions in turn are shaped by policies and economic conditions that exert downstream effects on resources, community development, and economic opportunity for local residents, businesses, and public services. 

Using this knowledge, the project aimed to identify which place-based characteristics were positively influencing these outlier communities through quantitative analysis as well as through interviews with key stakeholders and longtime residents in several outlier census tracts in the Los Angeles area. The findings help identify assets that may be important at the local level to enhance population health in underprivileged areas.