Origins of Health Disparities in Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the United States
Health Policy and Health Systems
December 11, 2013
Health disparities are a huge cause for concern in the United States. The term health disparities is generally referred to as health or health care differences between racial/ethnic groups and includes differences in morbidity, mortality, and access to health care (LaVeist & Issac, 12). When comparing the health outcomes between non-Hispanic whites and minorities, the differences in inequality are substantial. For various and numerous health conditions, non-Hispanic blacks suffer disproportionately from disease, injury, death, and disability compared to non-Hispanic whites (1). In 2006, the overall mortality rate for blacks was 28 percent higher than whites. (LaVeist, 21). Similarly, Hispanics/Latinos also experience disproportionate health outcomes when compared to non-Hispanic whites (2). Among nonelderly adults, 16 percent of black Americans and 17 percent of Hispanics report that they are in only fair or poor health, while only 10 percent of white Americans report the same (AHRQ). Additionally, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 2002, black Americans have death rates that are substantially higher than white Americans for both men and women. Black males have a death rate that is 35 percent higher than white men while the death rate for black women is 29 percent higher than white women. In this paper I investigate the most likely causes as to why these disparities in health and health care exist between white Americans and racial/ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. After thoroughly conducting research, one of the main causes that attributes to inequality in health and health care among racial and ethnic minorities is socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status is generally defined through a combination of income, education, and occupation statuses (APA). To further explain, when an individual’s level of education increases, their occupational status also tends to increase, along with their income. Richard Shewder reported on his research about health among the U.S. public in a New York Times article in 1997 and concluded that “lower middle-class Americans are more mortal, morbid, symptomatic and disabled than up-middle-class Americans. With each little step down on the educational, occupational and income ladders comes an increased risk of headaches, varicose veins, hypertension, sleepless nights, emotional distress, heart disease, schizophrenia and an early visit to the grave.” This actuality is often referred to as “the status syndrome”. Furthermore, data strongly suggests that the relationship between SES and health is not a threshold actuality. Rather, it follows a continuous model, which alludes that whatever association there is between socioeconomic status and health exists at all levels (Barr, 53). There are two main factors that contribute to “the status syndrome”. The first is the perception of relatively less privilege. In Donald A. Barr’s “Health Disparities in the United States”, he describes this phenomenon, “when one perceives the structure of the social system in which he or she lives as controlling, to a large extent, the outcomes of one’s life, that person is likely to place less emphasis on reducing individual behaviors that are known to adversely affect long-term health outcomes.” To further justify, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Services concludes that poor people have a smoking rate that is two times the smoking rate of high-income people for both males and females (Barr, 62). A number of researches have also suggested that health status is in accordance with the level of inequality within that society. One hypothesis that explains this phenomenon states that societies that allow large income disparities are societies that tend to invest insufficient...
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