Is Racism a Fundamental Cause of Inequalities in Health?

Posted: 21 Aug 2015

See all articles by Jo Phelan

Jo Phelan

Columbia University

Bruce Link

Columbia University - Department of Epidemiology

Date Written: August 2015

Abstract

We previously proposed that socioeconomic status (SES) is a fundamental cause of health inequalities and, as such, that SES inequalities in health persist over time despite radical changes in the diseases, risks, and interventions that happen to produce them at any given time. Like SES, race in the United States has an enduring connection to health and mortality. Our goals here are to evaluate whether this connection endures because systemic racism is a fundamental cause of health inequalities and, in doing so, to review a wide range of empirical data regarding racial differences in health outcomes, health risks, and health-enhancing resources such as money, knowledge, power, prestige, freedom, and beneficial social connections. We conclude that racial inequalities in health endure primarily because racism is a fundamental cause of racial differences in SES and because SES is a fundamental cause of health inequalities. In addition to these powerful connections, however, there is evidence that racism, largely via inequalities in power, prestige, freedom, neighborhood context, and health care, also has a fundamental association with health independent of SES.

Suggested Citation

Phelan, Jo and Link, Bruce, Is Racism a Fundamental Cause of Inequalities in Health? (August 2015). Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 41, pp. 311-330, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2648097 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073014-112305

Jo Phelan (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Bruce Link

Columbia University - Department of Epidemiology ( email )

722 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032
United States

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