COLUMBUS, Ohio — For many minorities, climbing up the economic ladder doesn’t make life entirely easier. A new study finds that blacks and Hispanics who earn higher incomes and are actually more likely to face discrimination and experience worse health than those who have less money.
Researchers at Ohio State University examined three-plus decades worth of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, covering thousands of Americans of all races.
These self-reported survey responses allowed the researchers to evaluate with fair precision how one’s level of income correlated to their quality of health and encounters with discrimination.
Counterintuitively, the researchers found that blacks and Hispanics, who made up 56 percent of those studied, experienced worse health the higher their wages rose, a troubling phenomenon that did not affect Caucasians.
“People assume that as your socioeconomic status improves, your health will improve as well,” explains Cynthia Colen, the study’s lead author, in a university news release. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case for Americans who aren’t white.”
Colen adds: “Our study suggests that upward mobility might expose African Americans to more discrimination and that could have a harmful effect on their health.”
The study looked at two distinct forms of prejudice: acute and chronic discrimination.
Acute discrimination was defined as prejudice that happened over a more immediate term, such as being fired or passed over for a promotion; chronic discrimination, on the other hand, was defined as prejudice that happened day in and day out, such as being treated with less respect than other colleagues.
Colen believes that upwardly mobile minorities may experience greater prejudice due to being placed in more situations in which their “other” status is emphasized, whether at school, work, or in their neighborhood.
Previous research had found that racial inequities are only magnified at higher social strata.
For example, black women with a college degree are significantly more likely than comparable white women to be obese, have high blood pressure, or deliver a child who dies prematurely.
“Socioeconomic status is so often thought to be the fundamental cause of health disparities, but this research shows us that we should consider other factors, including racism,” Colen argues.
The researchers conclude that future efforts to curb disparities in health outcomes should primary focus on an individual’s experience with acute and chronic discrimination, as opposed to their socioeconomic status.
The full study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.