Racial discrimination may be harmful to one’s health, a new study has suggested.
In the study, conducted by Jenifer Bratter and Bridget Gorman from Rice University, the authors examined data containing measures of social class, race and perceived discriminatory behaviour and found that approximately 18 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites reported higher levels of emotional upset and/or physical symptoms due to race-based treatment.
“Discriminatory behaviour very well may be a missing link in the analysis of racial and ethnic health disparities,” Bratter said.
“It’s important to acknowledge and study its impact on long-term health,” she said.
Unlike most of the research on this topic, Bratter and Gorman’s study examines the health risks of discrimination among both whites and blacks, as opposed to just blacks.
Their analysis was based on data from the 2004 wave of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing collaborative project between U.S. states and territories and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This racially comparative focus is important because we examine whether discrimination is equally harmful to the health status of black and white adults or whether experiencing discrimination is disproportionately harmful to either black or white adults,” Gorman said.
“For example, since, on average, black adults typically experience more health risks in their social and personal environment than white adults (including higher poverty and lower-quality medical insurance), they may be especially vulnerable to negative health effects as a result of racial discrimination,” she said.
A greater number of blacks report poor health due to discrimination, and the study did find that black-white disparities in health are shaped in part by the differential exposure of blacks to the harmful effects of discrimination.
However, Bratter and Gorman also show that while perceiving discrimination exacerbates some of the economic-based health risks more typically experienced by black adults, patterns differ for white adults. Regardless of social-class position, white adults who perceive unfair treatment relative to other racial groups in either workplace or health care settings report poorer health.
“A relatively small proportion of white adults report unfair treatment that is race-based, but those who do say their health status is harmed more than blacks who report the same experiences,” Gorman added.
The study has been published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and was funded by Rice University.