Disparities by Skin Color Among Young African-American Women

J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2021 Aug;8(4):1002-1011. doi: 10.1007/s40615-020-00856-x. Epub 2020 Sep 4.


Objective: Light-skin disadvantage (hypothesized to result from resentment by darker-skinned individuals) has been described in majority African-American populations but is less studied than dark-skin disadvantage. We investigated both light- and dark-skin disadvantage in a contemporary African-American study population.

Methods: We used skin reflectance and questionnaire data from 1693, young African-American women in Detroit, Michigan, and dichotomized outcomes as advantaged/disadvantaged. We compared outcomes for women with light vs. medium skin color with prevalence differences (PDs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and dark-skin disadvantage with prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CIs for a 10-unit increase in skin color.

Results: There was little evidence for light-skin disadvantage, but darker skin was associated with disadvantage across socioeconomic, health, and psychosocial domains. The strongest associations were for SES, but even controlling for SES, other associations included higher body mass index (PR 1.14 95% CI 1.08-1.20) and more stressful events (PR 1.10 95% CI 1.01-1.20).

Conclusions: Dark-skin disadvantage was the predominant form of colorism. Skin color metrics in public health research can capture more information than simple racial/ethnic categories, and such research could bring awareness to the deep-rooted colorism in society.

Keywords: African-American; Colorism; Disparities; Skin color.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Michigan
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Young Adult