Connecting the social and built environment to health and health inequalities

Jessica Finlay

Research Investigator, Social Environment and Health Program

Dr. Finlay is a health geographer and environmental gerontologist who uses mixed-methods to investigate how neighborhood built social, natural, and policy environments affect inequities in health, aging, and quality of later life. She focuses particularly on neighborhood determinants of cognitive aging and physically-, socially-, and intellectually-active aging in place. The goal of her overall research is to inform upstream health promotion and policy strategies to address socio-geographic determinants of health to improve health and wellbeing.

Her PhD research identified salient neighborhood features (e.g., accessible housing, transportation, services, and ‘third places’ outside of home and work) to support diverse older adults. Resulting publications advocated for policy to support older adults, particularly those who are unhoused, low-income, isolated, and aging in underserved and vulnerable communities. She is developing a new concept and public mapping tool to capture how supportive an area is to cognitive health. My analyses draw upon contextual data from the National Neighborhood Data Archive (NaNDA). She has collaborated with the NaNDA team to develop pre-pandemic contextual datasets on built and social environmental characteristics relevant to health and behavioral outcomes. NaNDA’s public database enables researchers to examine environmental influences on health and inform healthcare, policy, community services, and neighborhood design.

In addition, she has co-led the COVID-19 Coping Study since March 2020. This mixed-methods study investigates physical, mental, social, and cognitive health and well-being among aging Americans since the pandemic onset. Participants’ neighborhood environments impact risk and vulnerability to the virus and broader health outcomes.

Personal website:
Book website:

Research Projects

Aging in Place Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic Onset: A Study of Neighborhoods and Cognitive Health Among Older Americans

(NIH/NIA K99 AG075152)

The COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally changing neighborhood landscapes and ways of aging in place. This research investigates how neighborhoods affect cognitive health among aging populations before and after the onset of the pandemic. Policymakers, service providers, community groups, older adults, and researchers may use project findings to advance age-friendly community efforts to help prevent cognitive decline and facilitate healthy aging in place.

Jessica Finlay