Designing Healthy Communities Where Low-Income Populations Live Longer

Research by Raj Chetty of Stanford University shows that designing healthy communities can increase life expectancy, especially for low-income populations. What features can you design into healthy communities for people earning incomes in the bottom quartile?

Factors for Healthy Communities

A Citylab article describing Chetty’s research lists strong correlation between life expectancy of low-income people and factors such as:

  • Percentage of immigrants in a community: 72 percent correlation
  • High local government expenditures: 57 percent correlation
  • Population density: 48 percent correlation
  • Percentage of college graduates: 42 percent correlation
  • GINI index (a measure of income inequality): 20 percent correlation
  • Income segregation: 26 percent correlation

Put these together and you get a picture of a community where many diverse people live. They enjoy relative income equality, have access to education, and benefit from governmental goods and services.

The picture shows quality of life. Immigrants mean new influences and and ideas. Education means growing skills and new opportunities. Density means more possibilities for social connection, and more possibilities for public transit. Three of these factors–immigrants, density, and government expenditures–point to our social nature.

There are some surprising factors that are not strongly correlated with healthy communities for low-income populations:

  • Medicare spending: -9 percent correlation
  • Lack of health insurance: 10 percent correlation
  • Local unemployment rate: 11 percent correlation

Healthy Communities: Correlation, Causation, Caution, and Challenge

Some words of caution are in order here: correlation isn’t causation. In other words, having immigrant neighbors has not been proven to directly increase your life span. We can’t just move people to a new neighborhood and expect them to live longer. Also, we’re also talking about U.S. cities. This research probably applies to cities in the most developed countries in general. I’d be interested to see this same study repeated in places likeĀ  India and Nigeria.

But this study does point in a direction. How would a marketer use this as market research for creating or enhancing health communities?

  • Use marketing to change local regulations related to population density and low-income housing.
  • Design more density into the community.
  • Design immigrant-friendly governmental policies and budgets.
  • Promote your community as friendly to immigrants.
  • Make education affordable and accessible, to spread it more widely through the community.
  • Focus more on building a diverse, equal, and educated community.
  • Focus less on employment and health insurance.

Changing policies about immigration, income inequality, housing, and education means playing a long game for healthy communities. Funding such a long-term and indirect approach to healthy communities is a political challenge. I can hope that research-based arguments help make the case. Even that seems a challenge sometimes.


  1. LisaMarch 11, 2018

    Great article. Matt

  2. RoosMarch 16, 2018

    Thank you for the time and help


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