Measuring Structural Racism: A Guide for Epidemiologists and Other Health Researchers

Am J Epidemiol. 2022 Mar 24;191(4):539-547. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwab239.


There have been over 100 years of literature discussing the deleterious influence of racism on health. Much of the literature describes racism as a driver of social determinants of health, such as housing, employment, income, and education. More recently, increased attention has been given to measuring the structural nature of a system that advantages one racialized group over others rather than solely relying on individual acknowledgement of racism. Despite these advances, there is still a need for methodological and analytical approaches to complement the aforementioned. This commentary calls on epidemiologists and other health researchers at large to engage the discourse on measuring structural racism. First, we address the conflation between race and racism in epidemiologic research. Next, we offer methodological recommendations (linking of interdisciplinary variables and data sets and leveraging mixed-method and life-course approaches) and analytical recommendations (integration of mixed data, use of multidimensional models) that epidemiologists and other health researchers may consider in health equity research. The goal of this commentary is to inspire the use of up-to-date and theoretically driven approaches to increase discourse among public health researchers on capturing racism as well as to improve evidence of its role as the fundamental cause of racial health inequities.

Keywords: health disparities; health inequities; interdisciplinary methods; measurement; structural racism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epidemiologists
  • Health Equity*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Racism*
  • Systemic Racism