A Social Demography of Racial Health Disparities

Health disparities are an intractable, but not inevitable feature of the American stratification system. Sub-population groups that bear the brunt of poverty, marginalized labor, discrimination, wage gaps, and segregation-also bear the brunt of poor health (Williams and Collins 1995). This facet of American life has led to an increased focus on health disparities; in fact, Healthy People 2010 (HP2010) has put forth two lofty goals for the health of our nation. While many gains have been made for HP2010’s first goal, to increase quality and years of healthy life-negligible gains have been made to meet the second goal-to eliminate health disparities (DHHS 2000). One of the primary impediments for reaching this goal is most certainly our lack of understanding of which social processes generate health disparities and how these disparities persist amidst declining morbidity and mortality rates. It is clear that genetics does not offer a complete answer to the question of persistent disparities (LaVeist 1994, Frank 2007). Consequently, investigations into possible social, economic, and structural explanations are necessary in order to better understand the origin and cause of modern health disparities. One of the most disconcerting finding with regards to health disparities is the persistent racial gap in health, mortality, and morbidity. This proposal represents a systematic and ambitious attempt to both understand and explain how these patterns have both persisted and fluctuated over time. By combining demographic, public health, and sociological theory and methods we propose to critically examine the dynamic patterns of racial health disparities, focusing specifically on the “Black/White” health gap, by simultaneously estimating the contribution of age, period, and cohort effects on health trends over time. Specifically, this research project will take an ambitious demographic approach to health disparities by looking at age, period, and cohort effects and how they change temporarily to produce health disparities and changes in health disparities over time. This approach could prove to be a major addition to current approaches that simply focus on individual-level effects of survey respondents.

Contact Information
Brian K. Finch
Research Professor of Sociology & Spatial Sciences Director, USC Population Research Center Faculty, Center for Economic and Social Research University of Southern California
Adjunct Professor of Public Health
Director, Center for Health Equity Research & Policy San Diego State University
E: brianfin@usc.edu