This paper provides an overview of the contribution of sociologists to the study of racial and ethnic inequalities in health in the U.S. It argues that sociologists have made four principal contributions. First, they have challenged and problematized the biological understanding of race. Second, they have emphasized the primacy of social structure and context as determinants of racial differences in disease. Third, they have contributed to our understanding of the multiple ways in which racism affects health. Finally, sociologists have enhanced our understanding of the ways in which migration history and status can affect health. Sociological insights on racial disparities in health have important implications for the development of effective approaches to improve health and reduce health inequities.
Race is an unscientific, societally constructed taxonomy that is based on an ideology that views some human population groups as inherently superior to others on the basis of external physical characteristics or geographic origin. The concept of race is socially meaningful but of limited biological significance. Racial or ethnic variations in health status result primarily from variations among races in exposure or vulnerability to behavioral, psychosocial, material, and environmental risk factors and resources. Additional data that capture the specific factors that contribute to group differences in disease must be collected. However, reductions in racial disparities in health will ultimately require change in the larger societal institutions and structures that determine exposure to pathogenic conditions. More attention needs to be given to the ways that racism, in its multiple forms, affects health status. Socio-economic status is a central determinant of health status, overlaps the concept of race, but is not equivalent to race. Inadequate attention has been given to the range of variation in social, cultural, and health characteristics within and between racial or ethnic minority populations. There is a growing emphasis, both within and without the Federal Government, on the collection of racial or ethnic identifiers in health data systems, but noncoverage of the Asian and Pacific Islander population, Native Americans, and subgroups of the Hispanic population is still a major problem. However, for all racial or ethnic groups, we need not only more data but better data. We must be more active in directly measuring the health-related aspects of belonging to these social categories.
In recent decades, sociologists have increasingly adopted an intersectionality framework to explore and explain the complex and interconnected nature of inequalities in the areas of race, class, and gender. Using an inclusion-centered approach and a sample of 204 low-socioeconomic-status (SES) African American women, the authors theorize and explore the role of racial and gender discrimination in the stress process. Analyses examine relationships between social stressors (racial and gender discrimination) and individual stressors occurring in each of six distinct social contexts. Furthermore, the authors evaluate the effects of racial and gender discrimination as compared to individual stressors on three indicators of mental health and well-being. Findings suggest that racial and gender discrimination increases risk for poor health and low well-being, working both directly and indirectly through increased vulnerability to individual stressors. This research demonstrates the value of a more comprehensive study of stressors that influence the health of low-SES African American women and other multiply disadvantaged groups.
African American; mental health; stress; discrimination; intersectionality
Canadian research on racial health inequalities that foregrounds socially constructed racial identities and social factors which can explain consequent racial health inequalities is rare. This paper adopts a social typology of salient racial identities in contemporary Canada, empirically documents consequent racial inequalities in hypertension in an original survey dataset from Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and then attempts to explain the inequalities in hypertension with information on socioeconomic status, perceived experiences with institutionalized and interpersonal discrimination, and psychosocial stress.
Telephone interviews were conducted in 2009 with 706 randomly selected adults living in the City of Toronto and 838 randomly selected adults living in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area. Bivariate analyses and logistic regression modeling were used to examine relationships between racial identity, hypertension, socio-demographic factors, socioeconomic status, perceived discrimination and psychosocial stress.
The Black Canadians in the sample were the most likely to report major and routine discriminatory experiences and were the least educated and the poorest. Black respondents were significantly more likely than Asian, South Asian and White respondents to report hypertension controlling for age, immigrant status and city of residence. Of the explanatory factors examined in this study, only educational attainment explained some of the relative risk of hypertension for Black respondents. Most of the risk remained unexplained in the models.
Consistent with previous Canadian research, socioeconomic status explained a small portion of the relatively high risk of hypertension documented for the Black respondents. Perceived experiences of discrimination both major and routine and self-reported psychosocial stress did not explain these racial inequalities in hypertension. Conducting subgroup analyses by gender, discerning between real and perceived experiences of discrimination and considering potentially moderating factors such as coping strategy and internalization of racial stereotypes are important issues to address in future Canadian racial inequalities research of this kind.
Canada; Racial identity; Hypertension; Socioeconomic status; Perceived discrimination; Psychosocial stress
Racial residential segregation is a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. The physical separation of the races by enforced residence in certain areas is an institutional mechanism of racism that was designed to protect whites from social interaction with blacks. Despite the absence of supportive legal statutes, the degree of residential segregation remains extremely high for most African Americans in the United States. The authors review evidence that suggests that segregation is a primary cause of racial differences in socioeconomic status (SES) by determining access to education and employment opportunities. SES in turn remains a fundamental cause of racial differences in health. Segregation also creates conditions inimical to health in the social and physical environment. The authors conclude that effective efforts to eliminate racial disparities in health must seriously confront segregation and its pervasive consequences.
This review investigates the health of immigrants to Canada by critically examining differences in health status between immigrants and the native-born population and by tracing how the health of immigrants changes after settling in the country. Fifty-one published empirical studies met the inclusion criteria for this review. The analysis focuses on four inter-related questions: (1) Which health conditions show transition effects and which do not? (2) Do health transitions vary by ethnicity/racialized identity? (3) How are health transitions influenced by socioeconomic status? and (4) How do compositional and contextual factors interact to affect the health of immigrants? Theoretical and methodological challenges facing this area of research are discussed and future directions are identified. This area of research has the potential to develop into a complex, nuanced, and useful account of the social determinants of health as experienced by different groups in different places.
To illustrate the complex patterns that emerge when race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES) and gender are considered simultaneously in health care disparities research and to outline key issues for future research in this area by using disparities along the continuum of lung cancer as an example.
SES, gender and race/ethnicity are social categories that are robust predictors of variations in health and health services utilization. These are usually considered separately but each interacts with or is modified by the other categories. Research has given inadequate attention to the patterns of risk and resilience that emerge at the intersections of these multiple social status categories. Intersectionality theory provides a framework to understand how health status and health care access, utilization, quality and outcomes vary where social statuses intersect. It calls for greater attention to the ways in which multiple risk factors and resources combine to affect the risk of disease and its management. This approach requires research attention to the collection of new data elements as well as new analytic approaches.
Understanding how race/ethnicity, gender and SES are interdependent and reinforcing social identities will provide new knowledge that can enhance our efforts to effectively address health disparities.
health care disparities; smoking; lung cancer; race/ethnicity; socioeconomic status; gender
There is considerable scientific and policy interest in reducing socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in healthcare and health status. Currently, much of the policy focus around reducing health disparities has been geared towards improving access, coverage, quality and the intensity of healthcare. However, health is more a function of lifestyles linked to living and working conditions than of healthcare. Accordingly, effective efforts to improve health and reduce gaps in health need to pay greater attention to addressing the social determinants of health within and outside of the healthcare system. This paper highlights research evidence documenting that tackling the social determinants of health can lead to reductions in health disparities. It focuses both on interventions within the healthcare system that address some of the social determinants of health, as well as, interventions in upstream factors such as housing, neighborhood conditions and increased socioeconomic status that can lead to improvements in health. The studies reviewed highlight the importance of systematic evaluation of social and economic policies that might have health consequences and the need for policy makers, healthcare providers, and leaders across multiple sectors of society to apply currently available knowledge to improve the underlying conditions that impact the health of populations.
racial disparities; socioeconomic disparities; interventions; healthcare
Racial/ethnic disparities in obesity widen dramatically during young adulthood in the US. Understanding racial/ethnic differences in the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity can provide insight on these disparities. However, the delay and complexity of the transition to adulthood creates challenges for defining SES using traditional, single indicators, such as income or years of education. Our objective was to define a multidimensional measure of young adult SES using exploratory factor analysis and to investigate whether distinct SES dimensions differentially predicted obesity across race/ethnicity in 11,250 young adults (mean age = 21.9 years) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Wave III: 2000–2001). Four factors (social advantage; schooling; employment; and economic hardship) extracted from a principal factor analysis on 38 SES indicators comprised our multidimensional measure of young adult SES. The respondents’ scores on each factor were entered into gender-stratified Poisson regression models to estimate the relative risk of young adult obesity for a contrast of approximately one standard deviation in score. The association of the “Social advantage” and “Economic hardship” factors with obesity differed by race/ethnicity (p<0.05 for Wald test of interaction) in females; high “Social advantage” scores were inversely associated with obesity in white and Hispanic females (9–20% lower) while high scores on “Economic hardship” were positively associated with obesity (7–76% higher) in white and Asian females. In contrast, no significant racial/ethnic differences were detected in young adult males. The “Schooling” factor was significantly protective (RR=0.91; 95% CI: 0.85, 0.98) for females of all racial/ethnic groups. These results facilitate understanding of the impact of multiple, distinct SES dimensions during the complex transition to adulthood and thus provide salient information for reducing racial/ethnic disparities in obesity during this important period for obesity development.
USA; Social class; Minority groups; Obesity; Young adults; US; Factor Analysis; socioeconomic status (SES)
Purpose of the study: Investigating health disparities requires studies designed to recruit and retain racially and socioeconomically diverse cohorts. It is critical to address the barriers that disproportionately affect participation in clinical research by minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. This study sought to identify and rectify these barriers to recruit and retain a biracial (African American and non-Hispanic White) and socioeconomically diverse cohort for a longitudinal study. Design and Method: The Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study is a 20-year longitudinal examination of how race and socioeconomic status influence the development of age-related health disparities. One goal was to create a multifactorial recruitment and retention strategy. The recruitment paradigm targeted known barriers and identified those unique to the study's urban environment. The retention paradigm mirrored the recruitment plan but was based on specifically developed approaches. Results: This cohort recruitment required attention to developing community partnerships, designing the research study to meet the study hypotheses and to provide benefit to participants, providing a safe community-based site for the research and creating didactics to develop staff cultural proficiency. These efforts facilitated study implementation and enhanced recruitment resulting in accrual of a biracial and socioeconomically diverse cohort of 3,722 participants. Implications: Recruiting and retaining minority or poor research participants is challenging but possible. The essential facets include clear communication of the research hypothesis, focus on providing a direct benefit for participants, and selection of a hypothesis that is directly relevant to the community studied
Cultural proficiency; Health disparities; Community-based research platform
For decades data have been collected comparing health care in racial and ethnic groups. The use of such groups in health services research assumes that standard, reliable, and valid definitions of race and ethnicity exist and that these definitions are used consistently. In fact, race is a term often used, but ill defined. It can incorporate biological, social, and cultural characteristics of patients and can refer to both genetic and behavioral traits. Various investigators have reported differences between racial and ethnic groups in health status, disease manifestation and outcome, resource utilization, and health care access, often specifying neither a definition of race nor the measurement they used to classify their study populations. The role of race as an explanatory variable in health services research requires greater scrutiny than many researchers currently provide. Many studies use race as a proxy for other socioeconomic factors not collected in the research effort. This article explores the ambiguities about race as an explanatory variable that render such research difficult to interpret. We suggest that health services researchers focus on nonracial socioeconomic characteristics that might be both more informative and more useful in guiding policy formation.
National data do not account for race differences in health risks resulting from racial segregation or the correlation between race and socioeconomic status. Therefore, these data may inaccurately attribute differences in obesity to race rather than differing social context. The goal of this study was to investigate whether race disparities in obesity among women persist in a community of black people and white people living in the same social context with similar income.
Race disparities in obesity were examined among black women and white women living in the same social context with similar income, using the data from the Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities-SWB (EHDIC-SWB) study, and these estimates were compared to national data (National Health Interview Survey) to determine if race disparities in obesity were attenuated among women in EHDIC-SWB. Obesity was based on participants’ self-reported height and weight. Logistic regression was used to examine the association between race and obesity.
In the national sample, black women exhibited greater odds of being obese (OR 1.99, 95% CI 1.71 to 2.32) than white women after controlling for covariates. In the EHDIC-SWB sample, black women had similar odds of being obese (OR 1.25, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.75) as compared to white women, after adjusting for covariates.
There are no race disparities in obesity among poor, urban women sharing the same social context. Developing policies that focus on modifying social aspects of the environment may reduce disparities in obesity among low-income women living in urban communities.
Veterans Affairs (VA) patient populations are becoming increasingly diverse in race and ethnicity. The purpose of this paper is to (1) document the importance of using consistent standards of conceptualizing and categorizing race and ethnicity in health services research, (2) provide an overview of different methods currently used to assess race and ethnicity in health services research, and (3) suggest assessment methods that could be incorporated into health services research to ensure accurate assessment of disease prevalence and incidence, as well as accounts of appropriate health services use, in patients with different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
A critical review of published literature was used.
Race is a complex, multidimensional construct. For some individuals, institutionalized racism and internalized racism are intertwined in the effects of race on health outcomes and health services use. Ethnicity is most commonly used as a social–political construct and includes shared origin, shared language, and shared cultural traditions. Acculturation appears to affect the strength of the relationships among ethnicity, health outcomes, and health services use.
Improved and consistent methods of data collection need to be developed for use by VA researchers across the country. VA research sites with patients representing specific population groups could use a core set of demographic items in addition to expanded modules designed to assess the ethnic diversity within these population groups. Improved and consistent methods of data collection could result in the collection of higher-quality data, which could lead to the identification of race- and ethnic-specific health services needs. These investigations could in turn lead to the development of interventions designed to reduce or eliminate these disparities.
Race and ethnicity; measurement; health disparities
OBJECTIVE: Theoretical and empiric considerations raise concerns about how socioeconomic status/position (abbreviated here as SES) is often measured in health research. The authors aimed to guide the use of two common socioeconomic indicators, education and income, in studies of racial/ethnic disparities in low birthweight, delayed prenatal care, unintended pregnancy, and breastfeeding intention. METHODS: Data from a statewide postpartum survey in California (N = 10,055) were linked to birth certificates. Overall and by race/ethnicity, the authors examined: (a) correlations among several measures of education and income; (b) associations between each SES measure and health indicator; and (c) racial/ethnic disparities in the health indicators "adjusting" for different SES measures. RESULTS: Education-income correlations were moderate and varied by race/ethnicity. Racial/ethnic associations with the health indicators varied by SES measure, how SES was specified, and by health indicator. CONCLUSIONS: Conclusions about the role of race/ethnicity could vary with how SES is measured. Education is not an acceptable proxy for income in studies of ethnically diverse populations of childbearing women. SES measures generally should be outcome- and population-specific, and chosen on explicit conceptual grounds; researchers should test multiple theoretically appropriate measures and consider how conclusions might vary with how SES is measured. Researchers should recognize the difficulty of measuring SES and interpret findings accordingly.
Research reports often cite socioeconomic status as an underlying factor in the pervasive disparities in health observed for racial/ethnic minority populations. However, often little information or consideration is given to the social history and prevailing social climate that is responsible for racial/ethnic socioeconomic disparities, namely, the role of racism/racial discrimination. Much of the epidemiologic research on health disparities has focused on the relationship between demographic/clinical characteristics and health outcomes in main-effects multivariate models. This approach, however, does not examine the relationship between covariate levels and the processes that create them. It is important to understand the synergistic nature of these relationships to fully understand the impact they have on health status. PURPOSE: A review of the literature was conducted on the role that discrimination in education, housing, employment, the judicial system and the healthcare system plays in the origination, maintenance and perpetuation of racial/ethnic health disparities to serve as background information for funding Program Announcement, PA-05-006, The Effect of Racial/ Ethnic Discrimination/Bias on Healthcare Delivery (http:// grants.nih.gov/grants/ guide/pa-files/PA-05-006.html). The effect of targeted marketing of harmful products and environmental justice are also discussed as they relate to racial/ethnic disparities in health. CONCLUSION: Racial/ethnic disparities in health are the result of a combination of social factors that influence exposure to risk factors, health behavior and access to and receipt of appropriate care. Addressing these disparities will require a system that promotes equity and mandates accountability both in the social environment and within health delivery systems.
Minority health is often considered as a unitary phenomenon; it is often assumed that the health status of minority groups in the United States is similar across groups and much worse than that for whites. Yet the reality is extraordinary diversity. Racial/ethnic groups differ greatly both among and within themselves with regard to health status and with regard to a large number of other indices. Mortality rates around the world generally show an inverse relationship with social class. While this generally holds true in the United States as well, once again we see a strong interaction with race/ethnicity. However, the mediating factors between race/ethnicity and social class, and health status are not well understood. Especially in the face of health care reform, a broad-based research agenda needs to be undertaken so that any restructuring of the health care delivery system is informed by empirical information.
Racial-ethnic disparities in static levels of health are well documented. Less is known about racial-ethnic differences in age trajectories of health. The few studies on this topic have examined only single health outcomes and focused on black-white disparities. This study extends prior research by using a life course perspective, panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, and multilevel growth curve models to investigate racial-ethnic differences in the trajectories of serious conditions and functional limitations among blacks, Mexican Americans, and whites. We test three hypotheses on the nature of racial-ethnic disparities in health across the life course (aging-as-leveler, persistent inequality, and cumulative disadvantage). Results controlling for mortality selection reveal that support for the hypotheses varies by health outcome, racial-ethnic group, and life stage. Controlling for childhood socioeconomic status, adult social and economic resources, and health behaviors reduces but does not eliminate racial-ethnic disparities in health trajectories.
aging; cumulative disadvantage; functional limitations; health disparities; life course; morbidity; race-ethnicity
Ethnicity/race is a much-studied variable in epidemiology. There has been little consensus about what self-reported ethnicity/race represents, but it is a measure of some combination of genetic, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. The present article will attempt to: 1.) Elucidate the limitations of contemporary discourse on ethnicity/race that emphasizes the genetic and socioeconomic dimensions as competing explanatory frameworks; 2.) Demonstrate how considerable attention to the cultural dimension facilitates understanding of race differences in health-related outcomes; and 3.) Discuss interpretations of disparities in health status of African Americans versus European Americans from an ethical perspective. A major challenge to the discourse on ethnicity/race and health being limited to socioeconomic and genetic considerations is the lack of attention to the third alternative of a cultural perspective. The combined cultural ideologies of individualism and racism undermine the utility of epidemiologic research in health promotion and disease prevention campaigns aimed at reducing the racial gaps in health status. An ethical analysis supplements the cultural perspective. Ethics converge with culture on the notion of values influencing the study of ethnicity/race in epidemiology. A cultural approach to the use of ethnicity/race in epidemiologic research addresses methodological limitations, public health traditions, and ethical imperatives.
We deployed a study design that attempts to account for racial differences in socioeconomic and environmental risk exposures to determine if the diabetes race disparity reported in national data is similar when black and white Americans live under similar social conditions.
DESIGN & METHODS
We compared data from the 2003 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) with the Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities-Southwest Baltimore (EHDIC-SWB) Study, which was conducted in a racially-integrated urban community without race differences in socioeconomic status.
In the NHIS, African Americans had greater adjusted odds of having diabetes compared to whites (OR: 1.61, 95% CI: 1.26−2.04); whereas, in EHDIC-SWB white and African Americans had similar odds of having diabetes (OR: 1.07, 95% CI: 0.71−1.58). Diabetes prevalence for African Americans was similar in NHIS and EHDIC-SWB (10.4%, 95%CI: 9.5−11.4 and 10.5%, 95%CI: 8.5−12.5, respectively). Diabetes prevalence among whites differed for NHIS (6.6%, 95%CI: 6.2−6.9%) and EHDIC-SWB (10.1%, 95%CI: 7.6−12.5%).
Race disparities in diabetes may stem from differences in the health risk environments that African Americans and whites live. When African Americans and whites live in similar risk environments, their health outcomes are more similar.
diabetes; health disparities; residential segregation
The elimination of health disparities by race and ethnicity is a major public health goal for the US. This requires research establishing the reasons for disparities. This study explores racial-ethnic disparities in the patterns and trajectories of sexual risk-taking behaviors and STDs among young men.
The National Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM), a nationally representative sample of men who self-reported on sexual behaviors and STDs (including biomarkers) during three survey waves at ages 15–19 (1988; n=1880), 18–22 (1990/1; n=1676), and 21–26 (1995; n=1377), are used to conduct descriptive and multinomial logistic regression analyses to test two hypotheses: that racial-ethnic differences in STDs are due to (1) the lower socioeconomic status, and (2) higher levels of risky sexual behavior among racial-ethnic minority groups.
Black men report the highest sexual risk and STDs at each wave and across waves. Relative to white peers, Black and Latino men have higher odds of (1) maintaining high sexual risk and (2) increasing sexual risk over time. Both sexual risk behaviors and race-ethnicity predict STD outcomes. Race-ethnic disparities in STDs remain after controlling for sociodemographic variables. Further, disparities also persist when level of risky sexual behavior is controlled.
Race-ethnicity continues to differentiate black and Latino young men from white peers in terms of STDs. Development of HIV/STD prevention programs targeting different racial-ethnic subgroups of adolescent men and addressing both individual- and contextual-level factors are needed to curb STD spread.
Progress in understanding the nature of health disparities requires data that are race-comparative while overcoming confounding between race, socioeconomic status, and segregation. The Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities (EHDIC) study is a multisite cohort study that will address these confounders by examining the nature of health disparities within racially integrated communities without racial disparities in socioeconomic status. Data consisted of a structured questionnaire and blood pressure measurements collected from a sample of the adult population (age 18 and older) of two racially integrated contiguous census tracts. This manuscript reports on baseline results from the first EHDIC site, a low-income urban community in southwest Baltimore, Maryland (EHDIC-SWB). In the adjusted models, African Americans had lower rates of smoking and fair or poor self-rated health than whites, but no race differences in obesity, drinking, or physical inactivity. Our findings indicate that accounting for race differences in exposure to social conditions reduces or eliminates some health-related disparities. Moreover, these findings suggest that solutions to the seemingly intractable health disparities problem that target social determinants may be effective, especially those factors that are confounded with racial segregation. Future research in the area of health disparities should seek ways to account for confounding from SES and segregation.
Health disparities; Confounding; Race; Socioeconomic status; Segregation; Integration; Urban; Community
This article examines the potential role of health IT in addressing healthcare disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations. An overview of health IT utilization among healthcare providers notes certain characteristics that may disproportionately affect minority populations. Current and emerging health IT use among racial and ethnic minority populations is examined, highlighting areas in which technology use in these populations differs from that of nonminority populations and emphasizing the importance of new social media applications in healthcare education and delivery. Following a discussion of adoption and utilization barriers for providers as well as for patients and caregivers, specific opportunities to address healthcare disparities through health IT use are identified at the provider, patient/caregiver, and healthcare system levels. The article identifies several technical, practical, and human challenges to health IT adoption and stresses the need for the healthcare system to embrace the full spectrum of emerging health IT opportunities to address healthcare disparities.
health information technology; electronic health records
Interventions that improve clinicians’ awareness of racial disparities and improve their communication skills are considered promising strategies for reducing disparities in health care. We report clinicians’ views of an intervention involving cultural competency training and race-stratified performance reports designed to reduce racial disparities in diabetes outcomes.
Research Design and Methods
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 physicians and 5 nurse practitioners who recently participated in a randomized intervention to reduce racial disparities in diabetes outcomes. Clinicians were asked open ended questions about their attitudes towards the intervention, the causes of disparities and potential solutions to them.
Thematic analysis of the interviews showed that most clinicians acknowledged the presence of racial disparities in diabetes control among their patients. They described a complex set of causes, including socioeconomic factors, but perceived only some causes to be within their power to change, such as switching patients to less expensive generic drugs. The performance reports and training were generally well received but some clinicians did not feel empowered to act on the information. All clinicians identified additional services that would help them address disparities, for example culturally tailored nutrition advice. Some clinicians challenged the premise of the intervention, focusing instead on socioeconomic factors as the primary cause of disparities, rather than patients’ race.
The cultural competency training and performance reports were well received by many but not all of the clinicians. Clinicians reported the intervention alone had not empowered them to address the complex, root causes of racial disparities in diabetes outcomes.
diabetes; disparities; clinician attitudes
Although research has found that childhood socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with physical and mental health in mid- and later life, most of these studies used conventional, single dimension SES measures for the childhood period such as household income or educational attainment of parents. Life course and health disparities research would benefit from identification and measurement of a variety of childhood social and economic experiences and opportunities that might affect health in later life.
This study utilized qualitative research methods to identify key dimensions of childhood experiences related to SES. We conducted in-depth interviews with 25 adults age 55 to 80 years from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds. Topics included home, neighborhood, school, and work experiences during early childhood and adolescence. Interviews were audio-taped and transcripts were coded to identify thematic domains.
We identified eight thematic domains, many of which had clear subdomains: home and family circumstances, neighborhood, work and money, potential for advancement through schooling, school quality and content, discrimination, influence and support of adults, and leisure activities. These domains highlight individual characteristics and experiences and also economic and educational opportunities.
These domains of childhood social and economic circumstances add breadth and depth to conventional conceptualization of childhood SES. When the domains are translated into a measurement tool, it will allow for the possibility of classifying people along multiple dimensions, such as from a low economic circumstance with high levels of adult support.
Mental health is of special importance regarding socioeconomic inequalities in health. On the one hand, mental health status mediates the relationship between economic inequality and health; on the other hand, mental health as an "end state" is affected by social factors and socioeconomic inequality. In spite of this, in examining socioeconomic inequalities in health, mental health has attracted less attention than physical health. As a first attempt in Iran, the objectives of this paper were to measure socioeconomic inequality in mental health, and then to untangle and quantify the contributions of potential determinants of mental health to the measured socioeconomic inequality.
In a cross-sectional observational study, mental health data were taken from an Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool (Urban HEART) survey, conducted on 22 300 Tehran households in 2007 and covering people aged 15 and above. Principal component analysis was used to measure the economic status of households. As a measure of socioeconomic inequality, a concentration index of mental health was applied and decomposed into its determinants.
The overall concentration index of mental health in Tehran was -0.0673 (95% CI = -0.070 - -0.057). Decomposition of the concentration index revealed that economic status made the largest contribution (44.7%) to socioeconomic inequality in mental health. Educational status (13.4%), age group (13.1%), district of residence (12.5%) and employment status (6.5%) also proved further important contributors to the inequality.
Socioeconomic inequalities exist in mental health status in Iran's capital, Tehran. Since the root of this avoidable inequality is in sectors outside the health system, a holistic mental health policy approach which includes social and economic determinants should be adopted to redress the inequitable distribution of mental health.
Mental health; Socioeconomic inequality; Concentration index; Decomposition; Tehran