Public health researchers using Google search results to identify the level of racial bias in communities across the United States found that living in an area with a greater proportion of racist Google searches is associated with an 8.2 percent increase in the mortality rate among African Americans.
In a paper published in PLOS ONE, researchers explained that racism contributes to poorer health and higher mortality rates among African Americans compared to other groups. Racial residential segregation adversely impacts health by isolating Black families in neighborhoods with higher poverty and crime and fewer recreational facilities, parks, supermarkets, and quality healthcare providers; and racial discrimination in employment can lead to lower income and greater financial strain, which have been linked to worse mental and physical health outcomes.
The authors write that racial discrimination may also directly impact health by activating stress responses that lead to depression, anxiety, and anger, as well as chronic disease, and by triggering biochemical reactions that can damage biological systems over time.
The study contributes to the growing body of evidence that racial bias shapes health and mortality rates by using Google search results as a more reliable measurement of racial attitudes. Previous research has relied on self reports of discrimination and on racial segregation patterns, but these methods fail to fully capture racial bias. A measure based on Internet search results, however, provides a more direct indicator of racial discrimination in a geographic area. As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the data scientist who designed this methodology, has written, “Google data, evidence suggests, are unlikely to suffer from major social censoring,” because searchers are online and alone, making it easier to express “taboo” thoughts.
Analyzing searches for the “N-word”, researchers determined that racist attitudes were most concentrated in the rural Northeast and the South.
Living in these areas was significantly associated with an increase in the all-cause mortality rate for African Americans, amounting to over 30,000 deaths among Black people annually nationwide.