Discrimination and health inequities

Int J Health Serv. 2014;44(4):643-710. doi: 10.2190/HS.44.4.b.


In 1999, only 20 studies in the public health literature employed instruments to measure self-reported experiences of discrimination. Fifteen years later, the number of empirical investigations on discrimination and health easily exceeds 500, with these studies increasingly global in scope and focused on major types of discrimination variously involving race/ethnicity, indigenous status, immigrant status, gender, sexuality, disability, and age, separately and in combination. And yet, as I also document, even as the number of investigations has dramatically expanded, the scope remains narrow: studies remain focused primarily on interpersonal discrimination, and scant research investigates the health impacts of structural discrimination, a gap consonant with the limited epidemiologic research on political systems and population health. Accordingly, to help advance the state of the field, this updated review article: (a) briefly reviews definitions of discrimination, illustrated with examples from the United States; (b) discusses theoretical insights useful for conceptualizing how discrimination can become embodied and produce health inequities, including via distortion of scientific knowledge; (c) concisely summarizes extant evidence--both robust and inconsistent--linking discrimination and health; and (d) addresses several key methodological controversies and challenges, including the need for careful attention to domains, pathways, level, and spatiotemporal scale, in historical context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Prejudice*
  • Research*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States