Racial Disparities in Men's Mortality: The Role of Childhood Social Conditions in a Process of Cumulative Disadvantage

David F. Warner, Pennsylvania State University
Mark D. Hayward, Pennsylvania State University

Black American men live fewer years than whites and, moreover, the onset of chronic illness occurs earlier in the life cycle for Blacks. This results in Blacks living more years with chronic health problems and a higher prevalence of functional disability beginning in mid-life. Recent research suggests that these different health experiences result from socioeconomic disparities, rather than behavioral effects or discrimination, per se. Applying a life course perspective, we use the National Longitudinal Survey of Older Men (1966-1990) to investigate the childhood origins of these divergent health trajectories. We use discrete-time hazard models to estimate racial differences in men's risk of mortality as a function of childhood living arrangements and family of origin socioeconomic status, net of adult socioeconomic indicators, marriage and health related behaviors. The findings suggest that childhood socioeconomic conditions explain a substantial part of the race gap in adult men's mortality, consistent with a process of cumulative disadvantage.

Presented in Session 36: Economic Status and Health Over the Life Course