Divergent Pathways: Racial/ethnic inequalities in wealth and health trajectories

TitleDivergent Pathways: Racial/ethnic inequalities in wealth and health trajectories
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsBrown, TH
Number of PagesPh.D.
Date Published2008
UniversityThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CityUnited States -- North Carolina
Thesis Type3315689
KeywordsDemographics, Methodology, Women and Minorities

Extensive empirical evidence documents racial/ethnic disparities in both wealth and health: compared to Whites, Hispanics and Blacks have considerably less wealth and worse health. However, it remains unclear why racial/ethnic inequalities in wealth and health emerge, and whether these inequalities decrease, remain stable, or increase with age. This dissertation aims to fill these gaps in the literature by drawing on life course perspectives and methods to investigate racial/ethnic differences in wealth and health trajectories (i.e., long-term patterns of intra-individual change and stability in wealth and health with age) and how social disadvantage contributes to racial/ethnic wealth and health disparities. The first empirical chapter utilizes panel data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY), a nationally representative survey, and growth curve models to examine racial/ethnic differences in wealth trajectories between ages 21 and 45. Findings reveal that relatively small wealth gaps between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics exist in their early 20s, but these initial inequalities are magnified with age. In the second substantive chapter, data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative, longitudinal dataset is used to examine whether racial/ethnic wealth gaps narrow, remain stable, or widen between during the years leading up to retirement (ages 51 and 73). Results show that Whites experience more rapid rates of wealth accumulation than their minority counterparts during middle and later life, resulting in accelerating wealth disparities with age, consistent with a process of cumulative disadvantage. At age 73, the average White household has a net worth of approximately $122,000, whereas both Hispanic and Black household have less than $5,000. Substantial racial/ethnic disparities in wealth trajectories persist after controlling for group differences in life course capital suggesting that other factors such as racial/ethnic differences in portfolio composition, financial transfers, and exposure to discrimination may contribute to wealth disparities. The third substantive chapter uses HRS data to examine racial/ethnic differences in health trajectories. Results indicate that there are dramatic racial/ethnic disparities in both the levels and rates of change in health. Overall, findings from this study show that racial/ethnic inequalities result in divergent aging experiences for Black, Hispanic, and White Americans.

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Short TitleDivergent Pathways: Racial/ethnic inequalities in wealth and health trajectories
Citation Key6232