Structural racism in the workplace: Does perception matter for health inequalities?

Soc Sci Med. 2018 Feb;199:106-114. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.05.039. Epub 2017 May 20.


Structural racism has been linked to racial health inequalities and may operate through an unequal labor market that results in inequalities in psychosocial workplace environments (PWE). Experiences of the PWE may be a critical but understudied source of racial health disparities as most adults spend a large portion of their lives in the workplace, and work-related stress affects health outcomes. Further, it is not clear if the objective characteristics of the workplace are important for health inequalities or if these inequalities are driven by the perception of the workplace. Using data from the 2008 to 2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a probability-based sample of US adults 50 years of age and older and the Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network (O*NET), we examine the role of both standardized, objective (O*NET) and survey-based, subjective (as in HRS) measures of PWEs on health and Black-White health inequalities. We find that Blacks experience more stressful PWEs and have poorer health as measured by self-rated health, episodic memory function, and mean arterial pressure. Mediation analyses suggest that these objective O*NET ratings, but not the subjective perceptions, partially explain the relationship between race and health. We discuss these results within the extant literature on workplace and health and health inequalities. Furthermore, we discuss the use of standardized objective measures of the PWE to capture racial inequalities in workplace environment.

Keywords: Health and retirement study; Job stress; O*NET; Perceptions; Psychosocial work environment; Structural racism; United States.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • United States
  • White People / psychology*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Work / psychology
  • Workplace / psychology*