The pervasive effects of racism: experiences of racial discrimination in New Zealand over time and associations with multiple health domains

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Feb;74(3):408-415. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.11.004. Epub 2011 Dec 14.


Self-reported experience of racial discrimination has been linked to a range of health outcomes in various countries and for different ethnic groups. This study builds on previous work in New Zealand to further investigate the prevalence of self-reported experience of racial discrimination by ethnicity, changes over time and associations with multiple health measures. The study uses data from the 2002/03 (n=12,500) and 2006/07 (n=12,488) New Zealand Health Surveys, nationally representative population-based surveys of adults (15+ years). Reported experience of racial discrimination was measured in both surveys and covered 5 items: experience of an ethnically motivated physical or verbal attack; and unfair treatment because of ethnicity by a health professional, in work, or when gaining housing. Ethnicity was classified as Maori, Pacific, Asian or European. Health indicators included measures of: mental health (SF36 mental health scale, psychological distress, doctor diagnosed mental health condition); physical health (self-rated health, SF36 physical functioning scale, cardiovascular disease); and health risk (smoking, hazardous drinking, excess body fat). Logistic regression was used to examine changes in prevalence of reported experience of racial discrimination over time and associations with health. Reported experience of racial discrimination increased between 2002/03 (28.1% ever) and 2006/07 (35.0% ever) among Asian peoples but remained largely unchanged for other ethnic groupings (Maori 29.5%, Pacific 23.0%, European 13.5%). Experience of racial discrimination was associated with all negative health measures except excess body fat. Where there were significant associations, a dose-response relationship was also evident. We conclude that racial discrimination experienced across a range of settings has the potential to impact on a wide range of health outcomes and risk factors. While ongoing research is needed to understand the multifarious nature of racism and the pathways by which it leads to poor health, it is feasible to monitor experiences of racial discrimination in national surveys.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asian People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / statistics & numerical data*
  • New Zealand / ethnology
  • Prejudice*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult