Background Influence

Social exclusion, discrimination

Parent construct: Social cohesion

The US democratic system aspires to equal opportunity for all citizens to realize their fullest potential. Despite this promise, certain racial, ethnic, income and gender groups continue to receive differential treatment and have restricted access to the goods and services available in this society. Researchers have tried to understand discrimination both as social processes that impact on identifiable groups and as social acts experienced by individual members of that group. Discriminatory policies and practices have limited the power, status and wealth of these groups which contributes to patterns of social isolation and concentrated poverty.1 In turn, residents in these poor neighborhoods tend to experience lower levels of, for example, physical and mental health, educational attainment, and employment than residents of other neighborhoods.2,3

Research on the implications of discrimination and social exclusion for the well-being of children and youth has been informed by either a structural or cultural perspective. For example, those concerned with structural inequalities argue that adverse educational and health outcomes may be due to differential access to material needs, such as adequate nutrition, quality housing and schools, as well as the increased exposure to environmental toxins, and hazards.4 Others suggest that, in the absence of effective coping strategies, the stress associated with experiencing discrimination can lead to psychological and behavioral responses in children and adults that can undermine their optimal individual and collective development and well-being.3,5,6

There have been positive changes in the nature and degree of discriminatory social processes and social acts. This progress on removing social impediments to equitable access and opportunity must continue. At the same time, findings from social experiments on neighborhood poverty and developmental outcomes have been mixed. However, mounting evidence suggests that the holistic approach employed by the Harlem Children Zone can put in place the web of community level structural/institutional supports and processes needed to help families to optimize outcomes for their children and youth.7,8 We encourage and pursue this multifaceted approach.

Related Interventions



  1. Wilson, W.J. (2010). Reflections on culture and poverty: Why both social structure and culture matter in a holistic analysis of inner-city poverty. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 629, 200-219.  

  2. Lamberty ,G., Pachter, L.M., Crnic, K. (2000). Social stratification: implications for understanding racial, ethnic and class disparities in child health and development. In: Role of Partnerships: Second Annual Meeting of Child Health Services Researchers: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Available at:

  3. Pachter,L.M. & Coll, C.G. (2009). Racism and Child Health: A Review of the Literature and Future Directions. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 30(3), 255-263.  

  4. Williams, D.R., Neighbors, H.W., & Jackson, J.S. (2003) Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 200–208.

  5. Harrell, J.P., Hall, S., Taliaferro, J. (2003). Physiological responses to racism and discrimination: an assessment of the evidence. American Journal of Public Health. 93, 243–248.

  6. Sellers, R.M., Copeland-Linder, N, Martin, P.P., L'Heureux-Lewis, R. (2006) Racial identity matters: the relationship between racial discrimination and psychological functioning in African American adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16, 187-216.  

  7. Tough, P. (2008). Whatever it takes: Geoffrey Canada’s quest to change Harlem and America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  8. Dobbie, W. & Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2009). Are high quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from a social experiment in Harlem.