Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

Current Status and Priorities

RACE/ETHNICITY AND U.S. ADULT MORTALITY

Progress, Prospects, and New Analyses1

Robert A. Hummera1 c1 and Juanita J. Chinna2

a1 Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

a2 Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

Although there have been significant decreases in U.S. mortality rates, racial/ethnic disparities persist. The goals of this study are to: (1) elucidate a conceptual framework for the study of racial/ethnic differences in U.S. adult mortality, (2) estimate current racial/ethnic differences in adult mortality, (3) examine empirically the extent to which measures of socioeconomic status and other risk factors impact the mortality differences across groups, and (4) utilize findings to inform the policy community with regard to eliminating racial/ethnic disparities in mortality. Relative Black-White differences are modestly narrower when compared to a decade or so ago, but remain very wide. The majority of the Black-White adult mortality gap can be accounted for by measures of socioeconomic resources that reflect the historical and continuing significance of racial socioeconomic stratification. Further, when controlling for socioeconomic resources, Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants exhibit significantly lower mortality risk than non-Hispanic Whites. Without aggressive efforts to create equality in socioeconomic and social resources, Black-White disparities in mortality will remain wide, and mortality among the Mexican-origin population will remain higher than what would be the case if that population achieved socioeconomic equality with Whites.

(Online publication April 15 2011)

Keywords

  • Race;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Mortality;
  • Health Disparities;
  • African Americans;
  • Mexican Americans;
  • Socioeconomic Status

Correspondence:

c1 Robert A. Hummer, Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, G1800, Austin, Texas 78752. E-mail: rhummer@prc.utexas.edu

Robert A. Hummer is Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology and Population Research Center (PRC) at the University of Texas at Austin. Over the past decade, he served as Director of the PRC (2001–2005) and as Chairperson of the Department of Sociology (2006–2010). He is a social demographer whose work focuses on the careful description and understanding of racial/ethnic, immigrant/native, socioeconomic, and religious differences in health and mortality in the United States. His most recent project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, comprehensively documented patterns and trends in educational differences in U.S. adult health and mortality. In 2010, he was given the Clifford C. Clogg Award for Early Career Achievement by the Population Association of America.

Juanita J. Chinn is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include Health and Mortality in the United States. Her dissertation focuses on racial identity within the Hispanic population and its implications for health outcomes. She is currently assisting in research that analyzes the social and biological influences on pre-term births among Hispanic women. Her recently published and forthcoming work can be found in The Demography of the Hispanic Population and The Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human Development. She holds a BS in Applied Mathematics: Psychology from Brown University.

Footnotes

1 This research was supported by infrastructure grants 5 T32 HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, and 5 R24 HD042849, Population Research Center, both awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We also gratefully acknowledge support provided by a research grant from the National Institute for Minority and Health Disparities, 1 R01MD00425, principal investigator, Brian K. Finch.

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