Differences that systematically and negatively impact less advantaged groups are classified as disparities.  Health disparities refer to the differences in health status between groups due to but not limited to the following social factors: 

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status (SES)
  • Disabilities
  • Sexual Orientation

Health care disparities are one particular aspect of health disparities. The Institute of Medicine “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare” details the most commonly accepted definition of health care disparities as “differences in the quality of health care that are not due to access-related factors or clinical needs, preferences or appropriateness of intervention”.  

How Do We Study Health Disparities?

Identifying and categorizing certain groups properly is essential to investigating health disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. The definitions of race, ethnicity, and SES raise measurement issues which researchers in health disparities must consider. 

Issues involving the definitions of race and ethnicity include:

  • How to differentiate between the two 
  • Identifying as more than one category 

The variety of factors affecting SES include:

  • income
  • education
  • childhood income level
  • parental education
  • wealth

What Do We Know About Health Disparities?

Research in health disparities can be divided into three fields: what are the disparities, the causes of these disparities, and how we can resolve them.9

  • Data proves that significant health disparities exist, including profound differences in life expectancy and cancer related mortality by both race/ethnicity and by SES 
  • Individual, provider, and health care system factors contribute to how many health disparities occur 
  • Research also suggests that targeted interventions are successful in reducing health disparities 
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