Racial disparities in disability among older adults: Finding from the exploring health disparities in integrated communities study

Roland J. Thorpe, Rachael McCleary, Jenny R. Smolen, Keith E. Whitfield, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Thomas LaVeist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: Persistent and consistently observed racial disparities in physical functioning likely stem from racial differences in social resources and environmental conditions. Method: We examined the association between race and reported difficulty performing instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) in 347 African American (45.5%) and Whites aged 50 or above in the Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities-Southwest Baltimore, Maryland Study (EHDIC-SWB). Results: Contrary to previous studies, African Americans had lower rates of disability (women: 25.6% vs. 44.6%, p = .006; men: 15.7% vs. 32.9%; p = .017) than Whites. After adjusting for sociodemographics, health behaviors, and comorbidities, African American women (odds ratio [OR] = 0.32, 95% confidence interval [CI] = [0.14, 0.70]) and African American men (OR = 0.34, 95% CI = [0.13, 0.90]) retained their functional advantage compared with White women and men, respectively. Conclusion: These findings within an integrated, low-income urban sample support efforts to ameliorate health disparities by focusing on the social context in which people live.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1261-1279
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Aging and Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 19 2014



  • African americans
  • Disability
  • Older adults
  • Racial disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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