Exploring the Nexus of Energy Burden, Social Capital, and Environmental Quality in Shaping Health in US Counties

The United States spends more on health care than any other OECD country, yet the nation’s health is declining. Recent research has identified multiple sources for this decline, including one’s position in social and economic structures, environmental quality, and individual and collective social capital. This paper assesses the primary hypotheses that the health effects of household energy burden, social capital and environmental quality on aggregated community health levels remain while controlling for other determinants. The analysis moves beyond prior research by integrating multiple secondary data sources to assess those effects across US counties. Three indicators of public health are analyzed (premature mortality, self-reported health, and life expectancy). The county-level energy burden is measured by the percent of household income spent on housing energy bills for low- and moderate-income households. In addition to energy burden, social capital, environmental quality and other determinants are included in the analysis. The results produced by multivariate regression models support the primary hypotheses, even while a number of control variables also have a significant effect on health. The paper concludes that public health is associated with a complex nexus of factors, including environmental quality and social capital, and that energy burden needs to be among the considerations. Read more about JPB Fellow Tony Reames’s research.