Grant to enable creation of new data resources for studying structural racism

February 22, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — A grant from the National Institute on Aging will allow researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (ISR) to create and harmonize important data exploring the effects of structural racism on health in the United States.

Helen Meier, an assistant research scientist in ISR’s Survey Research Center (SRC) says the grant will help researchers discover and access data that may have previously been unavailable simply because it may not have appeared relevant to their field. 

“We will bring together and harmonize various siloed data sources on neighborhood factors, including place-based measures like census data, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and other historic structural racism indicator data,” she said. “There are many existing resources from different disciplines that are siloed.”

The grant will also create new neighborhood data on historical environmental hazards and study t changes in neighborhood housing parameters, demographics and social conditions. The new and existing data, once harmonized, will then be linked to data concerning health research and other long-term trends, including data from the Health and Retirement Study, hopefully creating a picture of the effects of structural racism on health.

“Studies, including our own, have shown that historic structural racism is associated with neighborhood factors such as present day lending discrimination, present day concentrated disadvantage and neighborhood health outcomes,” Meier said. “We’re going to create neighborhood trajectories of investment and disinvestment, racialized residential segregation to see how these policies have affected everything from place-based inequalities to individual health outcomes. 

The end result should be a large data set available for use by researchers in many different fields. Meier says that’s part of the goal for the grant funding: a harmonized data source should be a significant benefit to researchers across disciplines, serving people who study many different facets of institutionalized racism. That includes the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), a co-investigator on the project.

“Redlining continues to impact communities in many ways including increased segregation, diminished economic opportunity and also in worse public health,” said Bruce C. Mitchell, PhD, Senior Research Analyst at the NCRC. “This work will not only deepen our understanding of redlining’s history, but also how policymakers can best address its complex, lingering effects in the present day.”

The multidisciplinary approach will hopefully broaden the impact of the research produced.

“When you have data in all these different places, it’s usually only the people who work in that field that know about it and use it. But our multidisciplinary team is working to overcome that,” said Meier. “We’re the epitome of team science by including everybody from a biostatistician that specializes in spatio-temporal modeling to epidemiologists and experts on aging, to digital historians, to geography and housing experts. We’re truly bringing together the experts from different fields to make this happen.”

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