Health, behavior, and health care disparities: disentangling the effects of income and race in the United States

Int J Health Serv. 2012;42(4):607-25. doi: 10.2190/HS.42.4.c.


The literature on health disparities in the United States typically focuses on race/ethnicity or on socioeconomic status (SES) separately, but not often together. The purpose of the study was to assess the separate effects of race/ethnicity and SES on health status, health behaviors, and health care utilization. Cross-sectional analyses were conducted using the 2008 National Health Interview Survey (n = 17,337 non-elderly adults). SES disparities within specific racial groups were examined, as were race disparities within high and low SES groups. Within each racial/ethnic group, a greater proportion of low versus high SES individuals were in poor health, a lower proportion had healthy behaviors, and a lower proportion had access to care. In both SES groups, blacks and Hispanics had poorer health outcomes than whites. While whites were more likely to exercise than blacks and Hispanics, they are more likely to be smokers and less likely to have no or moderate alcohol consumption. Blacks had similar or better health care use than whites, especially for cancer screening; Hispanics had lower use within each SES group. Race/ethnicity disparities among adults of similar incomes, while important, were dwarfed by the disparities identified between high- and low-income populations within each racial/ethnic group.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / ethnology
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice / ethnology
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Healthcare Disparities / economics*
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology
  • Racial Groups / psychology
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Smoking / ethnology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult