Racial Health Disparities Start Early in Life

From the article by David Orenstein-Brown on Futurity:

When people begin and then continue life with poorer health, less income and wealth, higher degrees of stress, and less access to education and health care, their health itself will suffer, and that in turn can make improving any of their other disadvantages harder.

Statistical evidence shows that this complex interplay of difficulties disproportionately affects black people and underlies the significant racial disparities evident in health quality in the United States, said Brown University President Christina Paxson in a campus lecture on November 16.

The foundation of Paxson’s remarks was her presentation of data illustrating that the differences between blacks and whites in the United States occur across many dimensions that economists consider in models of how health is determined.

On average, black people are more likely to start life with low birth weight and poorer overall health quality. They are less likely to earn a college degree, and make less money on average. The average black household has starkly less total wealth than the average white household—$11,000 vs. $190,000 in 2013. By many measures, black people receive worse health care services than whites do.

At the same time, the data show that black people had higher mortality and infant mortality rates than any other US ethnic group in 2005. Black people were also more likely to report worse overall health, and higher rates of specific conditions such as arthritis, heart conditions, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and breathing disorders. Moreover, they reported in the National Health Interview Study that they were more likely to be limited in working because of these conditions.

“And there were different reasons for this,” Paxson said, listing “earlier onset of conditions; less ability to control the progression of the disease because of poorer quality medical care or worse environmental factors; [and] less income or wealth—and we saw the wealth gaps—that are needed to buffer the effects of the disease or the condition on the quality of life.”

One effect evident in the data is that black people often report reaching levels of ill health quality—”morbidity”—about a decade before white people do. Yet, Paxson said, when people can’t work in their 50s because of poor health, they miss out on the prime earning years when they need to save for retirement.

Read the full article.