Are Black-White Disparities in Mortality Increasing Over the Twentieth Century?

Dejun Su, University of Texas-Pan American

Despite the vast literature on black-white disparities in health and mortality, so far only a few studies have examined trends in these disparities over time. This study assesses trends in black-white disparities in mortality over the twentieth century through a comparative analysis of longitudinal data from the Union Army Sample and the Health and Retirement Study. The results reveal that despite the unprecedented decline in mortality for both blacks and whites over the twentieth century, the black-white disparities in mortality remained unchanged in absolute terms. The disparities, however, expanded over time in relative terms. Virtually all the expanded gap can be explained by the increasing disparities in marital status between blacks and whites over the twentieth century. In light of these findings, a new theoretical framework has been proposed to explain racial and ethnic disparities in health and mortality in the U.S. and their changes over time.

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Presented in Session 3: Racial and Ethnic Differentials in Health and Mortality