Though social networks have long been theorized as a critical resource that may attenuate the negative impact of residential segregation on health, few empirical studies have explored this possibility. Using an egocentric network approach, this study examines social network processes linking residential segregation to health and health disparities among Black and White Americans. Specifically, drawing on U.S. census data and individual-level survey data from the Person-to-Person Health Interview Study, I ask: (1) To what extent does residential segregation contribute to Black-White disparities in physical and mental health? (2) Do characteristics of social networks moderate the association between residential segregation and health? While I find residential segregation to have no association with physical and mental health for White Americans, residential segregation is associated with worse physical health but better mental health for Black Americans; however, these relationships are moderated by network factors. That is, the adverse association between residential segregation and physical health is substantially attenuated among Black Americans who are embedded in networks with high bridging social capital (i.e., less-dense networks with a high proportion of non-kin and college-educated ties). Further, I find that residential segregation is associated with better mental health only among Black Americans who are embedded in networks with high bonding social capital (i.e., smaller, closer, and more kin-centered networks). Taken together, these findings suggest that the link between residential segregation and health, and processes underlying this relationship, may be more complex than current theory predicts.
Nicholas C. Smith is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. His research focuses on three distinct, but related, areas that lie at the intersection of medical sociology, social psychology, and race-ethnicity: (1) racial residential segregation and health, (2) stress-related mechanisms of health inequalities, and (3) social network activation during health-related crises. To carry out his research program, Smith employs multiple quantitative methods and draws on U.S. census and individual-level survey data. His research has been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Horowitz Foundation.