Ecological Co-Morbidity: The Spatial Clustering of Homicide and Adverse Health Outcomes in Chicago Neighborhoods

Jeffrey Morenoff, University of Michigan

In their seminal work on neighborhood crime and social disorganization, Shaw and McKay (1941) argued that juvenile delinquency "is not an isolated phenomenon." In fact, in their research they found that the structural characteristics associated with high crime--e.g., poverty, residential instability, and dilapidated housing--were also associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes, such as high rates of infant mortality, tuberculosis, physical abuse, and other factors detrimental to health (Shaw and McKay 1941: 106). Recent research reveals that the "co-morbidity" or spatial clustering of homicide, infant mortality, low birth weight, accidental injury, and suicide continues to the present day (Almgren et al. 1998; Wallace 1990). Yet, the evidence suggesting an association between community context and health does not explain why such an association exists. What it does suggest is that if seemingly disparate health outcomes are linked together empirically across communities and are predicted by similar structural characteristics, then there may be common underlyng causes or mediating mechanisms at the neighborhood level. This paper examines the neighborhood causes of ecological co-morbidity with data from Chicago neighborhoods. Outcomes include rates of homicide, infant death, low birth weight, suicide, and non-violent causes of death.

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Updated 05/20/2006