Social Indicators Research

, Volume 124, Issue 2, pp 657–670 | Cite as

County-Level Determinants of Mental Health, 2002–2008

  • Stephan J. GoetzEmail author
  • Meri Davlasheridze
  • Yicheol Han


Poor mental health is a concern in the US and world-wide. In this study we examine the effects of socioeconomic and environmental variables on the number of days of poor mental health reported across US counties. The results suggest that educational attainment, employment opportunities including self-employment, and social capital have important benefits in terms of community mental health. Other socio-demographic variables also tend to have predicted effects, as does the amount of sunshine in January, which is our control for Seasonal Affective Disorder. The general conclusion of the study is that living in a non-metro county and adjacent to a metro core, is associated with greater happiness. Mental health days also increase considerably due to natural disasters and they are affected by regional climate variability. For policymakers concerned about reducing the average number of poor mental health days across the nation, our results suggest that reducing poverty is a more powerful strategy than reducing income inequality.


Mental health Social capital Inequality Disasters 



This study was supported in part by U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant No. 2012-70002-19385. The usual disclaimer applies. The authors thank Scott Loveridge, Rob Lyerla and Dee Owens for stimulating discussion, but are solely responsible for the content and any opinions expressed.


  1. Alesina, A., Baqir, R., & Easterly, W. (1999). Public goods and ethnic divisions. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(4), 1243–1284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baetschmann, G. (2013). Heterogeneity in the relationship between happiness and age: Evidence from the German Socio-Economic Panel. German Economic Review,. doi: 10.1111/geer.12015.Google Scholar
  3. Berry, H. L., Bowen, K., & Kjellstrom, T. (2010). Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. International Journal of Public Health, 55(2), 123–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berry, H. L., Kelly, B. J., Hanigan, I. C., Coates, J. H., McMichael, A. J., Welsh, J. A., & Kjellstrom, T. (2008). Rural mental health impacts of climate change. Commissioned paper for the Garnaut Climate Change Review (Interim report to the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments of Australia). Melbourne: Garnaut Review Secretariat.Google Scholar
  5. Bjørnskov, C. (2008). Social capital and happiness in the United States. Applied Research Quality of Life, 3, 43–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Calvo, R., Arcaya, M., Baum, C.F., Lowe, S.R., Waters, M.C. (2014). Happily ever after? Pre-and-post disaster determinants of happiness among survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Happiness Studies, doi:  10.1007/s10902-014-9516-5.
  7. Clark, A. E., Fritjers, P., & Shields, M. A. (2008). Relative income, happiness, and utility: An explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles. Journal of Economic Literature, 46(1), 95–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Di Tella, R., MacCulloch, R. J., & Oswald, A. J. (2003). The macroeconomics of happiness. Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(4), 809–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Easterlin, R. A. (1974). Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence. In Paul A. David & Melvin W. Reder (Eds.), Nations and households in economic growth: Essays in honor of Moses Abramovitz (pp. 89–125). New York: Academic Press Inc.Google Scholar
  10. Easterlin, R. A. (1995). Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organizations, 27(1), 35–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Easterlin, R. A. (2005). Feeding the Illusion of growth and happiness: A Reply to Hagerty and Veenhoven. Social Indicators Research, 74(3), 429–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Edwards, B., Gray, M., & Hunter, B. (2014). The impact of drought on mental health in rural and regional Australia. Social Indicators Research, doi: 10.1007/s11205-014-0638-2.Google Scholar
  13. Flores, E. C., Carnero, A. M., & Bayer, A. M. (2014). Social capital and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder among survivors of the 2007 earthquake in Pisco, Peru. Social Science and Medicine, 101, 9–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Glaeser, E. (2011). Triumph of the city: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  15. Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. C. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ivory, V. C., Collings, S. C., Blakely, T., & Dew, K. (2011). When does neighbourhood matter? Multilevel relationships between neighbourhood social fragmentation and mental health. Social Science and Medicine, 72(12), 1993–2002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kaplan, G., & Schulhofer-Wohl, S. (2013). Understanding the Long-Run Decline in Interstate Migration, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Research Department, Working Paper 697, 63 pp.Google Scholar
  18. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban health, 78(3), 458–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Khedun, C. P., & Singh, V. P. (2014). Climate change, water, and health: A review of regional challenges. Water Quality, Exposure and Health, 6(1–2), 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kuznets, S. (1955). Economic growth and income inequality. American Economic Review, 45(1), 1–28.Google Scholar
  21. MacKerron, G. (2010). Happiness economics from 35,000 feet. Journal of Economic Surveys, 26(4), 705–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mendolia, S. (2014). The impact of husband’s job loss on partners’ mental health. Review of Economics of Household, 12, 277–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Montalvo, J. G., & Reynal-Querol, M. (2005). Ethnic diversity and economic development. Journal of Development Economics, 76, 293–323.Google Scholar
  24. National Drought Monitor Center. (2014). U.S. Drought Monitor. Accessed 2 June, 2014.
  25. Nieminen, T., Martelin, T., Koskinen, S., Aro, H., Alanen, E., & Hyyppä, M. T. (2010). Social capital as a determinant of self-rated health and psychological well-being. International Journal of Public Health, 55, 531–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. OECD. (2011). Sick on the job? Myths and realities about mental health at work. Paris. Accessed 01 June 2014.
  27. Osofsky, H. J., Osofsky, J. D., Kronenberg, M., Brennan, A., & Hansel, T. C. (2009). Posttraumatic stress symptoms in children after Hurricane Katrina: Predicting the need for mental health services. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 212–220. doi: 10.1037/a0016179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Partridge, M. D., Rickman, D. S., Olfert, M. R., & Ali, K. (2012). Dwindling U.S. internal migration: Evidence of spatial equilibrium or structural shifts in local labor markets? Regional Science and Urban Economics, 42(1–2), 375–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Putnam, R. D. (2007). E pluribus unum: Diversity and community in the twenty-first century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize lecture. Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2), 137–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Raos, R., & Janus, M. (2011). Examining spatial variations in the prevalence of mental health problems among 5-year-old children in Canada. Social Science and Medicine, 72(3), 383–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Riumallo-Herl, C. J., Kawachi, I., & Avendano, M. (2014). Social capital, mental health and biomarkers in Chile: Assessing the effects of social capital in a middle-income country. Social Science and Medicine, 105, 47–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rupasingha, A., & Goetz, S. J. (2007). Social and political forces as determinants of poverty. Journal of Socio-Economics, 36(4), 650–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rupasingha, A., Goetz, S. J., & Freshwater, D. (2006). The production of social capital in US counties. Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(1), 83–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Shen, Y. (2014). Community building and mental health in mid-life and older life: Evidence from China original research article. Social Science and Medicine, 107, 209–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Silver, E., Mulvey, E. P., & Swanson, J. W. (2002). Neighborhood structural characteristics and mental disorder: Faris and Dunham revisited. Social Science and Medicine, 55, 1457–1470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2008). Economic growth and subjective wellbeing: Reassessing the Easterlin paradox. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1, 1–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Symoens, S., Van de Velde, S., Colman, E., & Bracke, P. (2014). Divorce and the multidimensionality of men and women’s mental health: The role of social-relational and socio-economic conditions. Applied Research Quality of Life, 9, 197–214.Google Scholar
  38. Tampubolon, G., & Hanandita, W. (2014). Poverty and mental health in Indonesia. Social Science and Medicine, 106, 20–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wen, M., Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2006). Objective and perceived neighborhood environment, individual SES and psychosocial factors, and self-rated health: An analysis of older adults in Cook County, Illinois. Social Science & Medicine, 63(10), 2575–2590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. World Health Organization. (2011). Impact of economic crises on mental health. WHO Regional Office. Accessed 06 June 2014.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan J. Goetz
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Meri Davlasheridze
    • 2
  • Yicheol Han
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Economics, Rural Sociology and EducationThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine SciencesTexas A&M University at GalvestonGalvestonUSA
  3. 3.Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy CenterThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations