Association Between Perceived Discrimination and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Problem Behaviors Among Preadolescent Youths

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 103, no. 6, June 2013, p. 1074-1081

Posted on RAND.org on May 22, 2013

by Laura M. Bogart, Marc N. Elliott, David E. Kanouse, David J. Klein, Susan L. Davies, Paula Cuccaro, Stephen W. Banspach, Melissa F Peskin, Mark A. Schuster

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OBJECTIVES: We examined the contribution of perceived racial/ethnic discrimination to disparities in problem behaviors among preadolescent Black, Latino, and White youths. METHODS: We used cross-sectional data from Healthy Passages, a 3-community study of 5119 fifth graders and their parents from August 2004 through September 2006 in Birmingham, Alabama; Los Angeles County, California; and Houston, Texas. We used multivariate regressions to examine the relationships of perceived racial/ethnic discrimination and race/ethnicity to problem behaviors. We used values from these regressions to calculate the percentage of disparities in problem behaviors associated with the discrimination effect. RESULTS: In multivariate models, perceived discrimination was associated with greater problem behaviors among Black and Latino youths. Compared with Whites, Blacks were significantly more likely to report problem behaviors, whereas Latinos were significantly less likely (a "reverse disparity"). When we set Blacks' and Latinos' discrimination experiences to zero, the adjusted disparity between Blacks and Whites was reduced by an estimated one third to two thirds; the reverse adjusted disparity favoring Latinos widened by about one fifth to one half. CONCLUSIONS: Eliminating discrimination could considerably reduce mental health issues, including problem behaviors, among Black and Latino youths.

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