Study Finds Link Between Google Searches for ‘N-Word’ and Black Death Rate

By Julianne Hing Apr 28, 2015

Does racism affect a black person’s health? If your gut answer is yes, how would you go about scientifically investigating the link? Scientists are starting to piece together a way.

In a new paper published last week, public health researchers say they have found a link between an established proxy for racism–the proportion of Google searches containing the n-word for a certain geographic region–and black mortality rates. That is, the areas with the highest proportion of people turning to Google with queries containing the n-word were associated with an 8.2 percent increase in black mortality rates–"equivalent to over 30,000 deaths annually," researchers wrote. 

The study "Association between an Internet-based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality," led by University of Maryland epidemiology professor David H. Chae, compared geographic differences in racism across the U.S.  by dividing the country using designated market areas–geographic areas defined by Nielsen Media Research representing television markets. They overlaid those models with health data to find their link. Researchers examined death certificates and population counts among black people over 25, "which represent the the largest burden of mortality from chronic diseases that are likely to be influenced by social stressors stemming from racism," the study authors wrote.

What’s likely is areas where people are more likely to use the n-word (notably, researchers limited it to variants of the n-word ending in -er and not -a) are more likely to also be hostile social environments which create indirect and direct stressors on black people’s lives. "Racism is a social toxin that increases susceptibility to disease and generates racial disparities in health," Chae said in a statement released by the University of Maryland.

The study, published by PLOS ONE, is available here.