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The effects of whiteness on the health of whites in the USA


  • Malat, Jennifer
  • Mayorga-Gallo, Sarah
  • Williams, David R.


Whites in the USA are the dominant racial group, with greater than average access to most material and social rewards. Yet, while whites have better outcomes than other racial groups on some health indicators, whites paradoxically compare poorly on other measures. Further, whites in the USA also rank poorly in international health comparisons. In this paper, we present a framework that combines the concept of whiteness—a system that socially, economically, and ideologically benefits European descendants and disadvantages people in other groups—with research from a variety of fields in order to comprehensively model the social factors that influence whites' health. The framework we present describes how whiteness and capitalism in the USA shape societal conditions, individual social characteristics and experiences, and psychosocial responses to circumstances to influence health outcomes. We detail specific examples of how social policies supported by whiteness, the narratives of whiteness, and the privileges of whiteness may positively and negatively affect whites' health. In doing so, we suggest several areas for future research that can expand our understanding of how social factors affect health and can contribute to the patterns and paradoxes of whites' health. By expanding research to include theoretically-grounded analyses of the dominant group's health, we can achieve a more complete picture of how systems of racial inequity affect health.

Suggested Citation

  • Malat, Jennifer & Mayorga-Gallo, Sarah & Williams, David R., 2018. "The effects of whiteness on the health of whites in the USA," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 199(C), pages 148-156.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:199:y:2018:i:c:p:148-156
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.06.034

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Arijit Nandi & Mohammad Hajizadeh & Sam Harper & Alissa Koski & Erin C Strumpf & Jody Heymann, 2016. "Increased Duration of Paid Maternity Leave Lowers Infant Mortality in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Quasi-Experimental Study," PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science, vol. 13(3), pages 1-18, March.
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    3. Fujishiro, Kaori, 2009. "Is perceived racial privilege associated with health? Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(5), pages 840-844, March.
    4. Benjamin Edelman & Michael Luca & Dan Svirsky, 2017. "Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 1-22, April.
    5. Ford, Chandra L. & Airhihenbuwa, Collins O., 2010. "The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(8), pages 1390-1398, October.
    6. McDonough, P. & Duncan, G.J. & Williams, D. & House, J., 1997. "Income dynamics and adult mortality in the United States, 1972 through 1989," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 87(9), pages 1476-1483.
    7. Kwate, N.O.A. & Meyer, L.H., 2010. "The myth of meritocracy and African American health," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 100(10), pages 1831-1834.
    8. Anne Case & Angua Deaton, 2015. "Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century," Working Papers 15078.full.pdf, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
    9. Kwate, Naa Oyo A. & Goodman, Melody S., 2014. "An empirical analysis of White privilege, social position and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 150-160.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lipsey, Nikolette P. & Shepperd, James A., 2019. "Powerful audiences are linked to health information avoidance: Results from two surveys," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 225(C), pages 51-59.
    2. Lipsey, Nikolette P. & Shepperd, James A., 2019. "The role of powerful audiences in health information avoidance," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 220(C), pages 430-439.
    3. Efird, Caroline R. & Lightfoot, Alexandra F., 2020. "Missing Mayberry: How whiteness shapes perceptions of health among white Americans in a rural Southern community," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 253(C).
    4. Read, Jen'nan Ghazal & West, Jessica S. & Kamis, Christina, 2020. "Immigration and health among non-Hispanic whites: The impact of arrival cohort and region of birth," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 246(C).
    5. Shellae Versey, H. & Cogburn, Courtney C. & Wilkins, Clara L. & Joseph, Nakita, 2019. "Appropriated racial oppression: Implications for mental health in Whites and Blacks," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 230(C), pages 295-302.

    More about this item


    Racism; Whiteness; Whites; Health; USA;


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