Black-white differences in self-reported disability outcomes in the U.S.: early childhood to older adulthood

Public Health Rep. Nov-Dec 2011;126(6):834-43. doi: 10.1177/003335491112600609.


Objective: We examined black-white differences in activities of daily living (ADLs), functional limitations (FLs), vision/hearing/sensory impairment, and memory/learning problems in a large, nationally representative sample of community-dwelling and institutionalized people across the lifespan.

Methods: Data are from the 2006 American Community Survey (n=2,288,800). We included data on non-Hispanic black respondents (125,985 males and 145,780 females) and non-Hispanic white respondents (977,792 males and 1,039,243 females) ≥5 years of age. We used logistic regression to examine the black-white odds for each disability outcome. The overall response rate was 97.5%.

Results: For FLs, ADL limitations, and memory/learning problems, black people experienced higher odds of disability across the adult lifespan compared with white people. Black-white differences narrowed in older age. For vision/hearing problems, a black-white crossover was found in older age (≥85 years), where odds of vision/hearing problems were lower among black people than among white people. For all disability outcomes, black-white differences peaked in midlife (50-69 years of age), with black people having approximately 1.5 to two times the odds of disabilities as their white peers.

Conclusions: The study findings suggest the need to address black-white disparities across a range of disability outcomes throughout the lifespan. Future work identifying the factors accounting for this pattern of disparities will help inform the development of appropriate prevention strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disabled Persons / classification
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Hearing Disorders / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / ethnology
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vision Disorders / ethnology
  • Young Adult