Health Equity

Study finds racial disparities in health persist despite wealth

The findings highlight the need for policies that address wealth gaps.
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Wealth often translates to better health, but research suggests that the extent of that benefit can vary—even if individuals have similar financial situations.

A recent study from a University of Kansas (KU) researcher found that patients with more financial assets, like savings and retirement plans, and secured debt—or loans backed by collateral, like a mortgage—generally have better health outcomes than those with unsecured debt, like credit card or medical debt. However, patients of color, especially young Black adults, had to be wealthier to experience the same level of health as their white counterparts.

The findings, published this summer in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, underscore how racial disparities affect health access, even among patients with the resources to access high-quality care.

Sicong Sun, the study’s author, said the findings should help identify “potential policy and program levers to help ensure better wealth and health outcomes for all.”

“There are various types of assets and debts, each of which is linked to health differently,” Sun, who is also an assistant professor at the school of social welfare and faculty affiliate with the Toni Johnson Center for Racial and Social Justice at KU, said in a December statement.

Sun analyzed and compared National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data from 7,000+ people in the US aged 30–36, and found that financial assets were associated with positive self-reported health and mental health. By contrast, unsecured debt was negatively tied to mental health.

According to the report, the extent to which unsecured debt affected individuals varied by race and ethnicity. For example, the report found that 74% of non-Hispanic white young adults reported having unsecured debt, in contrast to 57% of non-Hispanic Black young adults.

“Unsecured debt was protective of health for white respondents but was detrimental for people of color, especially Black young adults,” Sun said. “This indicates that debt carries various social and economic implications, challenges, and ways of affecting people, and these aspects differ between white Americans and people of color.”

Because disparities can present early in life for people of color, Sun argued, policymakers should consider how programs like student loan forgiveness could contribute to better health outcomes.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.