Health in the United States

Health by Race and Ethnicity

When looking at the social epidemiology of the United States, it is hard to miss the disparities among races. The discrepancy between black and white Americans shows the gap clearly; in 2008, the average life expectancy for white males was approximately five years longer than for black males: 75.9 compared to 70.9. An even stronger disparity was found in 2007: the infant mortality, which is the number of deaths in a given time or place, rate for blacks was nearly twice that of whites at 13.2 compared to 5.6 per 1,000 live births (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). According to a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation (2007), African Americans also have higher incidence of several other diseases and causes of mortality, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes. In a similar vein, it is important to note that ethnic minorities, including Mexican Americans and Native Americans, also have higher rates of these diseases and causes of mortality than whites.

Lisa Berkman (2009) notes that this gap started to narrow during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, but it began widening again in the early 1980s. What accounts for these perpetual disparities in health among different ethnic groups? Much of the answer lies in the level of healthcare that these groups receive. The National Healthcare Disparities Report (2010) shows that even after adjusting for insurance differences, racial and ethnic minority groups receive poorer quality of care and less access to care than dominant groups. The Report identified these racial inequalities in care:

  1. Black Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives received inferior care than Caucasian Americans for about 40 percent of measures.
  2. Asian ethnicities received inferior care for about 20 percent of measures.
  3. Among whites, Hispanic whites received 60 percent inferior care of measures compared to non-Hispanic whites (Agency for Health Research and Quality 2010). When considering access to care, the figures were comparable.