Lopez, David; Cazzuffi, Chiara (2017). 'Pwychosocial wellbeing and place characteristics' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


This paper maps psychosocial wellbeing in Mexico its relationship with spatial inequality and the characteristics of the place where a person lives. Psychosocial wellbeing is measured as stress and depressive symptoms. The term "psychosocial" refers to how psychological aspects of one's experience, such as thoughts, emotions and behaviour, are shaped by her interaction with her social environment (Ray, 2006). An emerging literature in development economics suggests that psychosocial wellbeing is a critical component of people's capability to function, determining behaviour and resulting economic outcomes (Carneiro et al., 2015; Bernard et al., 2014; Haushofer & Fehr, 2014; Moya & Carter, 2014; Beaman et al., 2012; Duflo, 2012; Macours & Vakis, 2009; Heckman et al., 2006). Understanding the spatial distribution of psychosocial wellbeing and its relationship with local socio-economic characteristics can provide an important tool for policy.

Place characteristics are potentially a very important determinant of psychosocial wellbeing especially in countries characterized by high spatial inequality, that is, by high levels of disparities among places in economic activities, incomes and social indicators. Mair et al. (2012), MacKerron & Mourato (2013), and Voors et al. (2012) all suggest the existence of a significant relationship between place characteristics and psychosocial wellbeing in the US, the UK and Burundi, respectively. Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular, is characterized by high levels of spatial inequality (Modrego & Berdegué, 2015), but we know little about its impacts on psychosocial wellbeing.

The influence of place characteristics on psychosocial wellbeing may occur through at least two channels. First, place provides a person with the opportunities and constraints that influence her experiences in the world and her (perceived) successes and failures, which, in turn, shape agency thinking and perceived locus of control. Second, place provides both a network of support, and the peers and role models that a person uses to define what is attainable to her. The more diverse this social environment, the more likely it is that someone will find a desirable and attainable goal to aspire to. But if all the peers of an individual living in poverty experience similar conditions, observing lack of opportunities, lack of histories of success, and hopelessness around her can reinforce her hopelessness and passive attitude (Ray 2006).

We use data from the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS) panel (2002-2006-2012), complemented with Census and administrative data. We analyse the relationship between individual psychosocial wellbeing and place characteristics using two-level logistic models with a random intercept for each place, in order to examine associations between place characteristics and psychosocial wellbeing before and after adjusting for individual-level socio-demographic characteristics. Place is defined as the lowest level of spatial aggregation that is available in the survey (locality and municipality). Place characteristics of interest include poverty and inequality, perceived level of violence, provision of public services and unemployment, among others.

Results suggest a negative relationship between psychosocial wellbeing and local levels of unemployment, and heterogeneity in the role of place characteristics depending on individual characteristics. First, local unemployment levels tend to harm women more than men, and older more than younger people. Second, local poverty increases the depression symptoms and feelings of sadness of wealthier people, but, at high levels of local poverty, poorer people are significantly more likely to experience stress compared to wealthier people. Moreover, local poverty significantly worsens the psychosocial wellbeing of unemployed people. Third, an increase in local inequality harms the psychosocial wellbeing of younger people, while it does not seem to affect individuals older than 35. Fourth, an increase in the provision of local amenities can improve psychosocial wellbeing among people younger than 50, but it does not seem to moderate the relationship between age and depression among older people.

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