Google searches for 'n-word' associated with black mortality

April 27, 2015, University of Maryland
Areas in orange and red indicate geographic regions with higher proportions of Google searches containing the 'n-word,' which were associated with higher Black mortality rates. Credit: David H. Chae, University of Maryland School of Public Health

Google searches could unveil patterns in Black mortality rates across the US, according to a new University of Maryland study. Researchers found that those areas with greater levels of racism, as indexed by the proportion of Google searches containing the "n-word," had higher mortality rates among Blacks. The study, led by David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, is the first to examine an Internet query-based measure of racism in relation to mortality risk, and is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Racial disparities in health and disease represent a significant concern. Research suggests that racism is a major culprit that contributes to the gap in mortality between Blacks and Whites," said Chae. "Our study points to the utility of an Internet-search based measure to monitor racism at the area-level and assess its impact on mortality."

Most research examining the link between racism and health has relied on people self-reporting whether they had been the victims of racial discrimination. These measures, however, may not fully capture the extent of racism in a geographic area given that racist acts are often not committed overtly. "Contemporary forms of racism are more subtle, and people may not recognize that the social insults they experience are driven by discrimination or prejudice," Chae explained. "Discrimination is more insidious today. Racism in major societal domains, such as in housing, employment, and criminal justice contexts continues despite the existence of protective legislation."

Given the challenges in measuring racism through surveys, the researchers used a proxy measure previously developed by Seth I. Stephens-Davidowitz, co-author on the study, that was based on the volume of searches for the "n-word" ending in -er¬ or -ers, not including those ending in -a or ¬-as as such searches were shown to be used in different contexts. "Such Internet query-based measures may be less susceptible to self-censorship of socially unacceptable attitudes. They may also reflect those instances of racism that are covert or hidden," Chae explained. This measure does not necessitate that all searches containing the "n-word" are motivated by racism, or that all people holding racist attitudes conduct such searches. It only assumes that areas with a greater concentration of these searches have higher levels of racism overall. The researchers wanted to examine whether this measure would predict differences in Black across the country.

They examined Black mortality rates in 196 media markets, which were compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics. Each one standard deviation increase in the level of area racism was related to an 8.2% greater all-cause Black mortality rate, which would be equivalent to over 30,000 deaths annually in the country. When they took into account additional demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of these areas, such as the number of Blacks, and levels of education and poverty, there remained a significant effect of area racism.

Because some geographic areas may be more prone to mortality regardless of race, the researchers also adjusted for the White mortality rate in their analyses. "By doing this, we are showing that it is not only associated with the Black mortality rate, but also the excess Black mortality rate relative to Whites," Chae explained. The researchers also found significant associations between the Google measure of area racism and Black mortality from three of the four leading causes of death in this population-heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

"Racism is a social toxin that increases susceptibility to disease and generates in health," said Chae. Racism has been shown to increase the risk of disease and poor health outcomes through several channels. For example, institutional forms of racism lead to systemic disadvantage, and segregate Blacks into health-damaging environments. As a source of stress, racism also has direct effects on mental and physical well-being.

Chae acknowledges the need to examine data collected over longer periods of time and at smaller geographic units. He also notes that because the timeframe of the Google and mortality data overlap, conclusions about the direction of the associations they found and making inferences about causality are limited. Despite these caveats, Chae said that their findings offer avenues for future research on the health implications of racism that takes advantage of newer technologies, including social media-based measures. "These findings add to mounting evidence that population-level racial disparities in health are driven by racism," said Chae. "Racism represents a serious social and moral dilemma. The persistence of racial disparities in disease and mortality reflects the fact that issues of remain unresolved."

Explore further: Racism may accelerate aging in African-American men

More information: , Association Between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black MortalityPLOS ONE … journal.pone.0122963

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not rated yet Apr 27, 2015
Y'all sure put the beat down on Cleavon Little and Richard Pryor.
2.6 / 5 (7) Apr 27, 2015
Okay, wait a minute, based on "n-word" searches?? Who uses that word routinely, sometimes a hundred times a day in normal conversation? Not "racists", unless you want to categorize African Americans saying the n-word as racists. It sure ain't white folk, witness the above. They're so scared of the word they couldn't even say it in a scholarly article!

Looks to me that map simply highlights concentrations of African Americans.
2.8 / 5 (6) Apr 27, 2015

Looks to me that map simply highlights concentrations of African Americans.

Well, then their research has shown that there is a high probability of an African American dying where an African American lives.... Makes sense to me! ;)
2.8 / 5 (4) Apr 27, 2015
Among other things, note the reference to the use of the "epithet" in internet searches. How many use that word in a search engine? And how do they ascertain that it's whites or blacks using the "epithet" in an internet search? Note the convenient racism of saying that it's only whites who would use that word in internet searches!
And note the reference to black mortality rates. How is is ascertained whether a death is caused by whites or black on black violence, or maybe by extremely poor hygiene or involvement in drug deals?
Note, too, the reference to "racism" so subtle as not even to be noticeable. They'll insist God is not present and condemn the idea of homeopathic remedies, yet demand that manifestations which is non existent are "subtle" but still present and exerting effect.
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2015
This whole article is nothing more than pure crap and David H. Chae needs to get a real job.
not rated yet Apr 28, 2015
There is a song called "my nigga" which has the word "nigga" in it 131 times. This naturally being the pinnacle of it's usage in hip hop lyrics but, most african american rappers dont shy away from it either.
Considering its a taboo word for caucasians in the west (regardless of your social status), i dont see how it's usage could indicate what they are claiming.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2015
These also happen to be areas with very high african american populations. Yes, more black people die in areas with more black people. Its like having a study that says that more Italians die in Italy than anywhere else -it doesn't imply an anti-Italian racial bias in Italy.
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2015
The death rates are PER CAPITA, so anyone claiming "more black people die in areas with more black people" or some such thing is an idiot.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 30, 2015
Wow, some of these comments just demonstrate no useful level of reading comprehension. So, lets explain.

First, SuperThunderRocketJockey. I quote you not to criticize, but to emphasize your very valid observations. You are so right. I hear it all the time in that context.
It is everyone's favorite word here, especially when a cop is in the news for killing a black person. No one is scared to use that word while white in this area, and the "victimized white" reflex is so common it's clownish when they realize another white person isn't a bigot here. White bigots assume all whites are white bigots, it's really stupid of them.

I'm Hispanic, but appearance-wise I'm pretty ambiguous looking. One of those that could be mistaken for a non-Latin white guy, or fit in right along with the Spics (since we're throwing epithets around, why not).

I routinely hear both groups of people throw the word around in those contexts by people who don't know me, thinking I'm with the program.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2015
Second, to quote Mr./Ms. RocketJockey again,

Protip to the closet racists snarking at the article: there aren't ten million products, websites, or pieces of classical literature named after the n-word. There's no Fifty Shades of N-Word people are Googling a leaked script for. If you're searching for it on Google, it more than likely is as an epithet.

Very true. And I'll add this piece that so many people seem not to get. The study looked specifically for the word "n:gger". Not nigga or some other hip hop colloquial variation so admittedly and sadly overused in today's culture. Trust me, blacks (and people in general) are not searching the word in it's "-er" form in relation to music and pop culture. Nigger, with that hard and pronounced "r" at the end is the province of the a**holes among us. Make no mistake about it.
not rated yet Apr 30, 2015
Third, a lot of these commenters seem to not understand the concept of proportions. Yes, obviously larger numbers of blacks die in high black population areas than in areas with lower black populations. The point is that as a percentage of their group, the rate of death from all causes is higher in the red areas of the map. If you're black and live in a red area, you can expect to live a shorter life than your peers in the green areas. Ugh.

Ever try to explain to someone complaining that they worked extra hours last week and that now they're going to have to pay so much "extra" tax on their next paycheck? Unless they're making some spectacular overtime bonus, they're still paying the same tax rate on money they wouldn't have otherwise had! Yet it's impossible to convince these people that they'll actually come out ahead! HAHAHA. Math, people. Oh, I pity the future of our nation... 90% populated by imbeciles. i.e., 9 out of 10 of us are idiots. Don't get it yet? I give up...
not rated yet May 02, 2015
I wonder what the correlation is between the n-word searches and the relative Black crime rate (most violent crime in the US is committed by Blacks (over 90% here in Atlanta) and most of that is committed against other Blacks). I suspect it is positive and more significant than the correlation with the Black death rate. I also suspect that the correlation between soft-drink consumption and the Black death rate is much higher than that between n-word searches and the death rate.

Racism is not a major cause of mortality. The primary driver of Black mortality is genetics (particularly "thrifty" genes that hold on to fat and salt). There is also a strong correlation between intelligence and longevity which is both direct as well as mediated by behavior, income and class; Blacks as a group have substantially lower intelligence and life expectancy than other groups in the US. (No, this is not remotely scientifically controversial and has been demonstrated in hundreds of studies.)

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