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Why people in low-income areas are more likely to experience chronic pain.

From educational attainment to safety to public health, residents in America's poorest neighborhoods are so often found to be at a disadvantage. And now according to a new study, they're also much more likely to be in physical pain.

Published recently in the Journal of Pain, the study looked at incidences of chronic pain in people aged 18 to 49 and found significantly higher rates among those living in lower income areas as compared to more affluent areas.

The report notes that "[l]iving in a lower [socioeconomic status] neighborhood was associated with increased sensory, affective, and 'other' pain, pain-related disability, and mood disorders."

In a survey of about 3,700 adults, the researchers also found higher rates of chronic pain among African Americans.

These correlations aren't particularly surprising. A large number of factors tend to play into why discrepancies exist between people in low income neighborhoods and those in higher income neighborhoods. As our own Richard Florida explained last fall in his article "America's Great Dental Divide," income is hardly the only data point that explains, in this case, why some people go to the dentist and others don't:

Dental visits closely track socioeconomic class. They are much higher in states where a higher percentage of the workforce is employed in knowledge, professional, and creative work. The creative class is significantly associated with dentist visits (.31). The same is true of the share of college graduates, a measure of the knowledge base and human capital in a state. The correlation between dental visits and college grads is even higher (.65). On the flip side, visits to the dentist are negatively associated with the working class share of a state’s workforce (-.28).

Access to health insurance, for example, also plays a role in who sees a dentist, or any other health professional for that matter. In lower-income areas, there's a higher chance that peoples' jobs don't provide health insurance, which might make someone more likely to simply deal with that bum leg than go get it checked out. And it's often the case that one ailment leads to another, creating a cycle of medical or pain issues that only get worse.

The fact that more people in lower-income neighborhoods experience more chronic pain should be an indication that better, more accessible and more affordable preventative health care is needed in these areas. Until that need is met, the cycle will likely continue.

Top image: melodija / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Nate Berg

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.

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