The Historical Evolution of Alcohol Environments and Associations to Sociodemographic Characteristics

Authors: Richard Sadler*, Michigan State University, Alan Harris, Michigan State University, Zachary Buchalski, Michigan State University
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Geography and Urban Health, Historical Geography
Keywords: alcohol, inequality, historical GIS, environmental exposure, shrinking cities
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 24
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research on alcohol environments has established a socioeconomic and racial gradient such that poorer and minority communities are frequently overburdened by on-premise outlets (e.g. liquor stores). These outlets have more associated harms in such communities, including increased alcohol consumption and various forms of crime. Little, if any, research has shown how these socio-spatial disparities in exposure have grown or shifted over time.

In this paper, we establish a method for defining outlets that sell alcohol (on- and off-premise) by comparing a state database to city directories. Using this metric, we then use GIS to model shifts in alcohol availability by race and socioeconomic status in 10 year intervals from 1950 to 2010.

Our results suggest that in our study city of Flint, Michigan, the alcohol environment has become less inequitable since 1950. While liquor stores are still more likely to be located in poorer and more heavily African American neighborhoods, the pattern has abated over time. Furthermore, the number of alcohol outlets per capita has declined. Thus although the city remains more overburdened with alcohol outlets than its suburbs, the disparity has shrunk.

This work has implications for those working in alcohol prevention and policy, as well as in urban planning. Practitioners and researchers can use this method to model alcohol availability over time in their own communities, which helps better inform the discussion on disparities experienced in poor and minority neighborhoods.

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