Skin Tone and Perceived Discrimination: Health and Aging Beyond the Binary in NSHAP 2015

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Dec 17;76(Suppl 3):S313-S321. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab098.


Objectives: This paper introduces new measures of skin tone (self-reported) and perceived discrimination that are included in the third round of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). We explain the rationale for these new measures, emphasizing, in particular, how they help researchers to conceptualize and measure the significance of race/ethnicity for health and aging beyond binary ethnoracial categories.

Method: We describe new measures of skin tone and perceived discrimination for use in NSHAP 2015. We provide descriptive statistics on the distribution of skin tone (self-reported) by race/ethnicity. As a proof of concept, we use logistic and ordinary least squares regression analyses to examine the relationship between skin tone, perceived discrimination, and perceived stress among ethnoracial minorities.

Results: We find that there is significant variation in skin tone among non-White respondents in NSHAP 2015 (e.g., non-Hispanic Black and Latinx). We also find that skin tone (self-reported) is a significant predictor of the frequency of perceived discrimination and perceived stress among African American, but not Latinx respondents in NSHAP.

Discussion: The inclusion of new skin tone and discrimination measures in NSHAP 2015 provides a unique and novel opportunity for researchers to more deeply understand how race/ethnicity is connected to health and aging among ethnoracial minorities. Furthermore, it will enable analyses of how stress and perceived discrimination also affect patterns of health and aging among Whites against the backdrop of steadily increasing socioeconomic inequalities and shifting ethnoracial demographics in the United States.

Keywords: Colorism; Health; Perceived discrimination; Race/ethnicity; Skin tone.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perceived Discrimination / ethnology*
  • Racism / ethnology*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • United States / ethnology