Environmental inequality, residential sorting, and health in urban Germany


Social stratification research increasingly recognizes that numerous types of inequality are location with residential neighborhoods often being the locus of inequality. Residential environmental inequality—the socially unequal distribution of exposure to environmental 'goods' (e.g., parks, green space) and 'bads' (e.g., air pollution, noise heat) at individuals' place of residence— is one crucial dimension of spatial inequality in urban settings that has been shown to affect physical health, mental health, and other key outcomes, such as educational performance, crime, and inter-generational economic mobility. The most recent Global Burden of Disease Study attributes 4.5 million deaths worldwide to outdoor air pollution alone in 2019.

On a very general level, my dissertation project focuses on different aspects of environmental inequalities in German urban areas. I am particularly interested in potential neighborhood disadvantages of immigrant-origin and low-income populations in Germany in terms of access to green space and exposure to air pollution from traffic and industry. The project contributes to our understanding of three important facets of the environmental health nexus: The patterns, the unequal health consequences, and the underlying mechanisms of environmental inequality.

Drawing on very fine-grained spatial data on environmental quality and the socioeconomic and demographic composition of residential neighborhoods, the first part of my dissertation provides a thorough analysis of environmental inequality by citizenship and income in German cities. I investigate patterns of neighborhood inequality not only between the relatively large areas that have been used as units of analysis in previous work but also within them and explore two possible mechanisms underlying selective sorting of disadvantaged groups into less desirable neighborhoods: income inequality and housing market discrimination.

The second part of the project examines the potentially heterogeneous adverse health consequences of poor environmental quality at the place of residence. I combine geo-referenced data from the German Socioeconomic Panel Study (GSOEP) with administrative and remote sensing data on neighborhood environmental quality to test whether neighborhood environmental quality affects the health outcomes of residents and whether the strength of the relationship differs by individuals' income and/or origin.

The complex role of residential preferences is well established in previous work on residential segregation, but has received very little attention in the literature on neighborhood environmental inequalities. We argue that it is very difficult to separate the role of residential preferences from the individual socioeconomic and the structural discriminatory constraints discussed above based on observational data. For the third part of the project, we ran our own pre-registered conjoint survey experiment to zoom in on the role of differences in residential preferences between individuals with and without immigrant origins in Germany.


Selected Publications

König, C. (2024) ‘Neighborhood structure and environmental quality: A fine-grained analysis of spatial inequalities in urban Germany’. Urban Studies. Link (Open Access): https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00420980231224224.

König, C. and Heisig, J.P. (2023) ‘Environmental inequality and health outcomes over the life course’, in R. Hoffmann (ed.) Handbook of Health Inequalities Across the Life Course. Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 327–348. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4337/9781800888166.00030.