Perceived discrimination and mortality in a population-based study of older adults

Am J Public Health. 2008 Jul;98(7):1241-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.114397. Epub 2008 May 29.


Objectives: We examined the relation of individual-level perceived discrimination to mortality in a biracial, population-based sample.

Methods: Participants were 4154 older adults from the Chicago Health and Aging Project who underwent up to 2 interviews over 4.5 years. Perceived discrimination was measured at baseline, and vital status was obtained at each follow-up and verified through the National Death Index.

Results: During follow-up, 1166 deaths occurred. Participants reporting more perceived discrimination had a higher relative risk of death (hazard ratio [HR]= 1.05; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.01, 1.09). This association was independent of differences in negative affect or chronic illness and appeared to be stronger among Whites than among Blacks (Whites: HR=1.12; 95% CI=1.04, 1.20; Blacks: HR=1.03; 95% CI=0.99, 1.07). Secondary analyses revealed that the relation to mortality was related to discriminatory experiences of a more demeaning nature and that racial differences were no longer significant when the sample was restricted to respondents interviewed by someone of the same race.

Conclusions: Perceived discrimination was associated with increased mortality risk in a general population of older adults. The results suggest that subjective experience of interpersonal mistreatment is toxic in old age. This study adds to a growing literature documenting discrimination as an important social determinant of health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cause of Death
  • Chicago / epidemiology
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Depression / mortality
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mortality / ethnology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prejudice*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / mortality
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*