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Public Expresses Need for Government Intervention to Reduce Socio-Economic Disparities in Health

HOUSTON—As Congress debates the public health care option, a recent study reveals greater public support for reducing health care disparities among socio-economic groups (i.e. by income or education) than among racial groups. The respondents to the survey experiment, published in an upcoming issue of Social Science Quarterly, voiced strong concern about economic-based disparities and suggested government intervention would help to alleviate this imbalance.

On the flipside, over sixty percent of the people interviewed believed the racially-based disparities (primarily between African-Americans and Caucasians) were a result of genetic differences which may cause chronic conditions or recurring diseases. This perception led respondents to view racially-based disparities as less problematic and more resistant to government-based solutions, as well as to be less supportive of policy proposals aiming to eliminate health disparities.

On the whole, American health statistics point to stark differences between the well being and health among different social groups. The fact that college graduates are expected to live at least five years longer than Americans who have not completed high school and African-Americans are twice more likely to be in fair or poor health than Caucasian Americans raises serious concerns about both aspects of the issue. Efforts to garner public support for policies aimed at eliminating these health disparities should attend to the politics of social diversity, including the public’s disparate perceptions of health disparities defined by different social groups.

This study is published in the December 2009 issue of Social Science Quarterly. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact scholarlynews@wiley.com.

To view the abstract for this article, please click here.

Head researcher Elizabeth Rigby, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston and a former Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar. Her fellow researchers include Joe Soss (University of Minnesota), Bridget C. Booske, Angela M. K. Rohan, and Stephanie A. Robert (University of Wisconsin–Madison). This research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Rigby can be reached for questions at erigby@uh.edu