The Changing Role of Socioeconomic Status in Explaining Black-White Disparities in Healthy Life

Scott M. Lynch, Princeton University
J. Scott Brown, Miami University

Black-white disparities in health are well documented, and numerous studies have attempted to explain the disparity as the product of socioeconomic (SES) disparities between races. Most research has utilized cross-sectional data for this purpose; however, racial differences in SES have changed dramatically since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, the distribution of health has also changed dramatically over the same period. Utilizing a new method for estimating healthy life expectancy applied to 1980-2003 National Health Interview Survey and vital statistics mortality data over the same period, we examine how the role SES plays in accounting for racial disparities in healthy life has changed over time. We find that (1) SES disparities between blacks and whites have declined over the period, (2) health disparities by race and SES have also declined, and (3) the role SES plays in accounting for race disparities in health has diminished over the period.

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Presented in Session 6: Race/Ethnic Differences in Adult Health and Mortality