Unequal Gain of Equal Resources across Racial Groups

Document Type: Perspective


1 Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health (CRECH), School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

3 Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA


The health effects of economic resources (eg, education, employment, and living place) and psychological assets (eg, self-efficacy, perceived control over life, anger control, and emotions) are well-known. This article summarizes the results of a growing body of evidence documenting Blacks’ diminished return, defined as a systematically smaller health gain from economic resources and psychological assets for Blacks in comparison to Whites. Due to structural barriers that Blacks face in their daily lives, the very same resources and assets generate smaller health gain for Blacks compared to Whites. Even in the presence of equal access to resources and assets, such unequal health gain constantly generates a racial health gap between Blacks and Whites in the United States. In this paper, a number of public policies are recommended based on these findings. First and foremost, public policies should not merely focus on equalizing access to resources and assets, but also reduce the societal and structural barriers that hinder Blacks. Policy solutions should aim to reduce various manifestations of structural racism including but not limited to differential pay, residential segregation, lower quality of education, and crime in Black and urban communities. As income was not found to follow the same pattern demonstrated for other resources and assets (ie, income generated similar decline in risk of mortality for Whites and Blacks), policies that enforce equal income and increase minimum wage for marginalized populations are essential. Improving quality of education of youth and employability of young adults will enable Blacks to compete for high paying jobs. Policies that reduce racism and discrimination in the labor market are also needed. Without such policies, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate the sustained racial health gap in the United States.


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