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The measures were determined based on responses to such questions as "Have you ever been unfairly denied a promotion?" or "Have you ever been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened, or abused by police?" for acute discrimination. To measure chronic discrimination, respondents answered questions like "How often have you been treated with less respect than other people?" and "How often have you been called names or insulted?"
African American adolescents and young adults reported the most experiences of discrimination: Almost 22 percent of blacks reported frequent instances of acute discrimination, compared to 14 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of whites.
Racial disparities in the mothers' health status also were evident: By age 50, 31 percent of blacks reported having fair or poor health, compared to 17 percent of whites and 26 percent of Hispanics.
Analyzing the data in statistical models revealed that mothers of children reporting moderate or high levels of acute discrimination were up to 22 percent more likely to face a decline in their health between age 40 and 50 than mothers of children who reported low levels of acute discrimination. Smaller but significant declines in health were also noted for mothers whose children experienced frequent chronic discrimination. These associations were evident among African Americans, Hispanics and whites.
Racial health disparities have been well-documented in previous research, but the specific reasons for these discrepancies can be hard to identify and quantify. Colen expected to find that children's experiences with discrimination would help explain why mothers of color had poorer health than whites, but found that this was true only among African American mothers.
The analysis showed that children's experiences with acute discrimination explained almost 10 percent, and chronic discrimination about 7 percent, of the gap in health declines between black and white women, but was not linked to the health gap between white and Hispanic moms – even though the data showed that these disparities exist. Colen said adding health data from the mothers at age 60, which wasn't available when she conducted this research, may provide a clearer picture of the intergenerational health effects of discrimination over time.
"We have known for a long time that people who are treated unfairly are more likely to have poor mental and physical health," Colen said. "Now we know that these negative health effects aren't restricted to the person who experiences discrimination firsthand – instead they are intergenerational, and they are likely to be a contributor to racial disparities in health that mean people of color can expect to die younger and live less healthy lives." Source:
Ohio State University Journal reference:
Colen, C. G., et al. (2020) The Intergenerational Transmission of Discrimination: Children’s Experiences of Unfair Treatment and Their Mothers’ Health at Midlife. Journal of Health and Social Behavior . doi.org/10.1177/0022146519887347 .
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