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Public Health Rep. 2011 Sep-Oct;126 Suppl 3:102-14.

Institutional racism and pregnancy health: using Home Mortgage Disclosure act data to develop an index for Mortgage discrimination at the community level.

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  • 1University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.



We used Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data to demonstrate a method for constructing a residential redlining index to measure institutional racism at the community level. We examined the application of the index to understand the social context of health inequities by applying the residential redlining index among a cohort of pregnant women in Philadelphia.


We used HMDA data from 1999-2004 to create residential redlining indices for each census tract in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. We linked the redlining indices to data from a pregnancy cohort study and the 2000 Census. We spatially mapped the levels of redlining for each census tract for this pregnancy cohort and tested the association between residential redlining and other community-level measures of segregation and individual health.


From 1999-2004, loan applicants in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, of black race/ethnicity were almost two times as likely to be denied a mortgage loan compared with applicants who were white (e.g., 1999 odds ratio [OR] = 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.63, 2.28; and 2004 OR=2.26, 95% CI 1.98, 2.58). The majority (77.5%) of the pregnancy cohort resided in redlined neighborhoods, and there were significant differences in residence in redlined areas by race/ethnicity (p<0.001). Among the pregnancy cohort, redlining was associated with residential segregation as measured by the percentage of black population (r=0.155), dissimilarity (r=0.250), exposure (r=-0.115), and isolation (r=0.174) indices.


The evidence of institutional racism may contribute to our understanding of health disparities. Residential redlining and mortgage discrimination against communities may be a major factor influencing neighborhood structure, composition, development, and wealth attainment. This residential redlining index as a measure for institutional racism can be applied in health research to understand the unique social and neighborhood contexts that contribute to health inequities.

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