Health and Wealth Inequities across Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Stations


For many people living in the Bay Area, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is an integral part of everyday life (just ask anyone affected by the recent BART strike). I commute from the East Bay to San Francisco for work, so I’m all too familiar with the changing landscape of various neighborhoods along the way. A casual ride on any BART line reveals the economic disparity that exists between an affluent suburb, such as Pleasanton or Fremont, and the urban core of Downtown Oakland, but a little data can reveal how much deeper this disparity goes. Consider this: a short ride between BART stations can mean an 11-year difference in life expectancy.

Inspired by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s City Maps, we wanted to see how income and health disparities looked in the Bay Area, relying on BART stations as our geographic markers. Using data from the “Shortened Lives” series (a project by the Bay Area News Group for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships) and data from the American Community Survey, we mapped life expectancy at the ZIP code level, along with socioeconomic and health indicators, corresponding to various BART station locations (data for San Francisco County was not calculated as part of the series). One of the most striking findings was that life expectancy around the Walnut Creek station was 84 years, compared to 73 years for the Oakland City Center station. In other words, living just 16 miles apart can mean the difference between living more than a decade longer (see here for life expectancy and income disparities at the county level in California).

BART Health and Wealth Map

Download the map (pdf, 1.5 mb)

Other indicators reveal the close relationship between health and socioeconomic factors. Areas with lower median household income, such as Richmond, Fruitvale, or Oakland City Center tend to have lower rates of educational attainment and lower life expectancies, compared to more affluent areas such as Fremont, Walnut Creek, or Pleasanton. Perhaps most compelling is the data on childhood asthma hospitalizations. Dublin/Pleasanton, which has among the highest median household income levels at roughly $120,500 has one of the lowest rates of childhood asthma hospitalizations (143 per 100,000) compared to Oakland City Center, which has a median household income of $26,200 and a childhood asthma hospitalization rate of 971 per 100,000 (6.8 times higher than Dublin/Pleasanton).

It’s no surprise that economic inequality persists in the Bay Area, but as we learn more about the interconnected nature of socioeconomic status and physical health, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the community development field has an important role to play in addressing these inequities. You can learn more through the SF Fed’s Healthy Communities initiative, which is dedicated to promoting cross-sector solutions that revitalize neighborhoods and improve health. The next time you ride BART, take a moment to reflect on the different neighborhoods you pass and the fact that a short distance can mean big differences in socioeconomic and physical well-being.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

About the Author
Laura Choi
Laura Choi is executive vice president of Public Engagement at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where she provides overall strategic direction and leadership for the Community Development, Government and Civic Relations, and Regional Business Engagement teams. Learn more about Laura Choi