The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among African-Americans

AJS. 2015 Sep;121(2):396-444. doi: 10.1086/682162.


In this study, the author uses a nationally representative survey to examine the relationship(s) between skin tone, discrimination, and health among African-Americans. He finds that skin tone is a significant predictor of multiple forms of perceived discrimination (including perceived skin color discrimination from whites and blacks) and, in turn, these forms of perceived discrimination are significant predictors of key health outcomes, such as depression and self-rated mental and physical health. Intraracial health differences related to skin tone (and discrimination) often rival or even exceed disparities between blacks and whites as a whole. The author also finds that self-reported skin tone, conceptualized as a form of embodied social status, is a stronger predictor of perceived discrimination than interviewer-rated skin tone. He discusses the implications of these findings for the study of ethnoracial health disparities and highlights the utility of cognitive and multidimensional approaches to ethnoracial and social inequality.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Health Equity / standards*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Prejudice / psychology*
  • Self Report
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • United States