Race, Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Chronic Lung Disease in the U.S

Res Health Sci. 2020;5(1):48-63. doi: 10.22158/rhs.v5n1p48. Epub 2020 Feb 10.


Background: Higher socioeconomic status (SES) indicators such as educational attainment and income reduce the risk of chronic lung diseases (CLDs) such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Marginalization-related Diminished Returns (MDRs) refer to smaller health benefits of high SES for marginalized populations such as racial and ethnic minorities compared to the socially privileged groups such as non-Hispanic Whites. It is still unknown, however, if MDRs also apply to the effects of education and income on CLDs.

Purpose: Using a nationally representative sample, the current study explored racial and ethnic variation in the associations between educational attainment and income and CLDs among American adults.

Methods: In this study, we analyzed data (n = 25,659) from a nationally representative survey of American adults in 2013 and 2014. Wave one of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH)-Adult study was used. The independent variables were educational attainment (less than high school = 1, high school graduate = 2, and college graduate =3) and income (living out of poverty =1, living in poverty = 0). The dependent variable was any CLDs (i.e., COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma). Age, gender, employment, and region were the covariates. Race and ethnicity were the moderators. Logistic regressions were fitted to analyze the data.

Results: Individuals with higher educational attainment and those with higher income (who lived out of poverty) had lower odds of CLDs. Race and ethnicity showed statistically significant interactions with educational attainment and income, suggesting that the protective effects of high education and income on reducing odds of CLDs were smaller for Blacks and Hispanics than for non-Hispanic Whites.

Conclusions: Education and income better reduce the risk of CLDs among Whites than Hispanics and Blacks. That means we should expect disproportionately higher than expected risk of CLDs in Hispanics and Blacks with high SES. Future research should test if high levels of environmental risk factors contribute to the high risk of CLDs in high income and highly educated Black and Hispanic Americans. Policy makers should not reduce health inequalities to SES gaps because disparities sustain across SES levels, with high SES Blacks and Hispanics remaining at risk of health problems.

Keywords: African Americans; Blacks; educational attainment; ethnic groups; ethnicity; income; poverty; race; socioeconomic position; socioeconomic status.