Purpose of Review
Environmental epidemiology has long considered socioeconomic position (SEP) to be an important confounder of pollution effects on health, given that, in the USA, lower-income and minority communities are often disproportionately exposed to pollution. In recent decades, a growing literature has revealed that lower-SEP communities may also be more susceptible to pollution. Given the vast number of material and psychosocial stressors that vary by SEP, however, it is unclear which specific aspects of SEP may underlie this susceptibility. As environmental epidemiology engages more rigorously with issues of differential susceptibility, it is pertinent to define SEP more clearly, to disentangle its many aspects, and to move towards identifying causal components. Myriad stressors and exposures vary with SEP, with effects accumulating and interacting over the lifecourse. Here, we ask: In the context of environmental epidemiology, how do we meaningfully characterize ”SEP”?
In answering this question, it is critical to acknowledge that SEP, stressors, and pollution are differentially distributed by race in US cities. These distributions have been shaped by neighborhood sorting and race-based residential segregation rooted in historical policies and processes (e.g., redlining), which have served to concentrate wealth and opportunities for education and employment in predominantly-white communities. As a result, it is now profoundly challenging to separate SEP from race in the urban US setting.
Here, we cohere evidence from our recent and on-going studies aimed at disentangling synergistic health effects among SEP-related stressors and pollutants. We consider an array of SEP-linked social stressors, and discuss persistent challenges in this epidemiology, many of which are related to spatial confounding among multiple pollutants and stressors. Combining quantitative results with insights from qualitative data on neighborhood perceptions and stress (including violence and police-community relations), we offer a lens towards unpacking the complex interplay among SEP, community stressors, race, and pollution in US cities.
What Is “socioeconomic position (SEP),” and how might it modify air pollution-health associations? Cohering findings, identifying challenges, and disentangling effects of SEP and race in US city settings
Purpose of Review