Public Release: 

Discrimination may harm your health, according to new Rice study

18 percent of blacks, 4 percent of whites report emotional, physical distress due to discriminatory treatment

Rice University

Racial discrimination may be harmful to your health, according to new research from Rice University sociologists Jenifer Bratter and Bridget Gorman.

In the study, "Is Discrimination an Equal Opportunity Risk? Racial Experiences, Socio-economic Status and Health Status Among Black and White Adults," the authors examined data containing measures of social class, race and perceived discriminatory behavior 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 behavior 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.

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."

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 said.

Both Bratter and Gorman hope that their research will raise awareness about the impact racial discrimination has on health and wellness.

"Ultimately we hope that practitioners and researchers in the medical field recognize the dual contribution of social class and interpersonal treatment in shaping health outcomes among persons of all racial populations," Bratter said.

This study appeared in the September 2011 edition of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and was funded by Rice University.

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For more information or to schedule an interview with Bratter or Gorman, contact David Ruth, director of national media relations at Rice, at 713-348-6327 or david@rice.edu.

Related links:

"Is Discrimination an Equal Opportunity Risk? Racial Experiences, Socioeconomic Status, and Health Status among Black and White Adults": http://hsb.sagepub.com/content/52/3/365.abstract

Rice University Department of Sociology: http://sociology.rice.edu/Default.aspx?id=30&linkidentifier=id&itemid=30

Jenifer Bratter bio: http://sociology.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=76

Bridget Gorman bio: http://sociology.rice.edu/Gorman

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is known for its "unconventional wisdom." With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is less than 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to www.rice.edu/nationalmedia/Rice.pdf.

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