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Clinical Science Brown Bag: Economic Resources and Psychological Assets Better Predict Health Outcomes for Whites than Blacks

Shervin Assari, Research Investigator, Psychiatry, Medical School
Monday, September 11, 2017
9:00-10:00 AM
4464 East Hall Map
Economic resources (e.g. education, employment, and neighborhood quality) better predict health outcomes for Whites compared to Blacks. The same findings have been found for psychological assets (e.g. anger control, affect, perceived control over life, general self-efficacy, and self-rated health). For instance, high levels of general self-efficacy does not predict higher life expectancy for Blacks. These findings suggest that these resources and assets may have a less salient role for physical health of Blacks (a disadvantaged minority group) than Whites (the privileged majority group). These findings hold across settings, age groups, designs, predictors, and outcomes. But why do Blacks gain less than Whites from the same levels of resources and assets?

One hypothesis is the structural barriers that exist in the U.S. social system. Due to the labor market preferences and practices, education and employment are not generating the same income, so Blacks with education have less purchase power than Whites. The type of jobs that Whites and Blacks enter are qualitatively different, so employment will result in a smaller health gain for Blacks. Black men with a master degree earn $20,000 less than their White counterparts. This hypothesis has been previously explained as "diminished health gain for Blacks".

Another hypothesis is that Blacks are more resilient than Whites to a wide range of adversities due to their life experiences (i.e. a social rather than a biological view). As life has been difficult for Blacks, for the sake of their survival, Blacks may have learned and found ways to deal with their harsh environment. These experiences may have helped them develop a systematic resilience. Whites, however, do not have such a training opportunity. In this view, vulnerability should be seen as a cost of privilege and resilience as a gift of adversity.

Regardless of their developmental origins, these findings have clinical and policy implications. A high sense of control over life or self-efficacy may have different meanings across different racial groups. As psychical factors do not have the same predictive validity for minorities, reliance on these psychosocial measures as tools to predict future health outcomes would generate more errors for Blacks than Whites. These findings are also against universal application of these measures across racial groups. Policy solutions should focus on structural barriers in the lives of Blacks and other minorities. Equalizing access to resources would not be enough for elimination of racial health disparities, given that resources and assets better generate health for Whites than Blacks.
Building: East Hall
Event Type: Presentation
Tags: brown bag
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Psychology, Clinical Science