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Perceived Neighborhood Safety Better Predicts Risk of Mortality for Whites than Blacks



The current study had two aims: (1) to investigate whether single-item measures of subjective evaluation of neighborhood (i.e., perceived neighborhood safety and quality) predict long-term risk of mortality and (2) to test whether these associations depend on race and gender.


The data came from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study (ACL), 1986–2011, a nationally representative longitudinal cohort of 3361 Black and White adults in the USA. The main predictors of interest were perceived neighborhood safety and perceived neighborhood quality, as measured in 1986 using single items and treated as dichotomous variables. Mortality due to all internal and external causes was the main outcome. Confounders included baseline age, socioeconomic status (education, income), health behaviors (smoking, drinking, and exercise), and health (chronic medical conditions, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms). Race and gender were focal effect modifiers. Cox proportional hazard models were ran in the pooled sample and stratified by race and gender.


In the pooled sample, low perceived neighborhood safety and quality predicted increased risk of mortality due to all causes as well as internal causes, net of all covariates. Significant interaction was found between race and perceived neighborhood safety on all-cause mortality, indicating a stronger association for Whites compared to Blacks. Race did not interact with perceived neighborhood quality on mortality. Gender also did not interact with perceived neighborhood safety or quality on mortality. Perceived neighborhood safety and quality were not associated with mortality due to external causes.


Findings suggest that single items are appropriate for the measurement of perceived neighborhood safety and quality. Our results also suggest that perceived neighborhood safety better predicts increased risk of mortality over the course of 25 years among Whites than Blacks.

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Shervin Assari is supported by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund and the Richard Tam Foundation at the University of Michigan Depression Center.

Author’s Contributions

Shervin Assari designed and analyzed this work, as well as drafted and revised the paper. He also confirmed the final version.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shervin Assari.

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The Americans’ Changing Lives (ACL) study was supported by Grant No. AG018418 from the National Institute on Aging (DHHS/NIH). The NIH Public Access Policy requires that peer-reviewed research publications generated with NIH support are made available to the public through PubMed Central. NIH is not responsible for the data collection or analyses represented in this article. The ACL study was conducted by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan.

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The author declares that he has no conflicts of interest.

Animal Studies

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study. University of Michigan Institutional review board (IRB) approved the study protocol.

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Assari, S. Perceived Neighborhood Safety Better Predicts Risk of Mortality for Whites than Blacks. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 4, 937–948 (2017).

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  • Neighborhood
  • Safety
  • Mortality
  • Life course
  • Race
  • Ethnic groups