The Long Arm of Oppression: How Structural Stigma Against Marginalized Communities Perpetuates Within-Group Health Disparities

Health Educ Behav. 2021 Jun;48(3):342-351. doi: 10.1177/10901981211011927.


Understanding and addressing health inequities calls for enhanced theoretical and empirical attention to multiple forms of stigma and its influence on health behaviors and health outcomes within marginalized communities. While recent scholarship highlights the role of structural stigma on between-group health disparities, the extant literature has yet to elucidate the mechanisms through which structural stigma gives rise to within-group health disparities. In this article, we review and use relevant literature to inform the development of a conceptual model outlining how structural stigma contributes to within-group health disparities by creating division and tension within communities marginalized due to their social statuses and identities. We specifically focus on disparities among (1) communities of color due to White supremacy, (2) gender and sexual minority communities due to patriarchy and heterosexism, and (3) the disability community due to ableism. We argue that the nature and extent of the stigma members of stigmatized communities face are intricately tied to how visible the stigmatized characteristic is to others. By visibility, we refer to characteristics that are more easily perceived by others, and reveal a person's social identity (e.g., race/ethnicity, nativity, relationship status, gender expression, and disability status). This paper advances the literature by discussing the implications of the model for future research, practice, and policy, including the importance of acknowledging the ways in which structural stigma intentionally disrupts the collective identity and solidarity of communities and consequently threatens health equity.

Keywords: health inequities; minority communities; structural stigma; within-group health disparities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gender Identity
  • Health Equity*
  • Humans
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Social Identification
  • Social Stigma