Using "socially assigned race" to probe white advantages in health status

Ethn Dis. Autumn 2008;18(4):496-504.

Abstract

Objectives: We explore the relationships between socially assigned race ("How do other people usually classify you in this country?"), self-identified race/ethnicity, and excellent or very good general health status. We then take advantage of subgroups which are discordant on self-identified race/ethnicity and socially assigned race to examine whether being classified by others as White conveys an advantage in health status, even for those who do not self-identify as White.

Methods: Analyses were conducted using pooled data from the eight states that used the Reactions to Race module of the 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Results: The agreement of socially assigned race with self-identified race/ethnicity varied across the racial/ethnic groups currently defined by the United States government. Included among those usually classified by others as White were 26.8% of those who self-identified as Hispanic, 47.6% of those who self-identified as American Indian, and 59.5% of those who self-identified with More than one race. Among those who self-identified as Hispanic, the age-, education-, and language-adjusted proportion reporting excellent or very good health was 8.7 percentage points higher for those socially assigned as White than for those socially assigned as Hispanic (P=.04); among those who self-identified as American Indian, that proportion was 15.4 percentage points higher for those socially assigned as White than for those socially assigned as American Indian (P=.05); and among those who self-identified with More than one race, that proportion was 23.6 percentage points higher for those socially assigned as White than for those socially assigned as Black (P<.01). On the other hand, no significant differences were found between those socially assigned as White who self-identified as White and those socially assigned as White who self-identified as Hispanic, as American Indian, or with More than one race.

Conclusions: Being classified by others as White is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status, no matter how one self-identifies.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / classification
  • Asian Americans / classification
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • Continental Population Groups / classification*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / classification*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Health Status*
  • Hispanic Americans / classification
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / classification
  • United States