Racial disparities in health and wealth: The effects of slavery and past discrimination

Darrell J. Gaskin, Alvin E. Headen, Shelley I. White-Means

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Racial disparities in health and wealth are well documented. Compared to whites, African Americans have lower life expectancy, higher death rates from chronic diseases, and receive sub-optimal medical care. In addition, African Americans are more likely to live in poverty, have lower median household incomes, lower net worth and lower educational attainment. Are these current disparities due in part to past societal racism? We explore this issue in this paper and propose a methodology for understanding the impact of the legacy of racism on present generations. We argue that slavery, racial segregation, and discrimination resulted in real reductions in the health and wealth of African Americans that have persisted across generations. Federal, state and local policies and laws constrained previous generations of African Americans' investment decisions and opportunities to improve their health, and accumulate financial assets and human capital. The elimination and relaxing of these policies and laws, while halting further injury, did not compensate for the past restrictions on the incentives and capacity of parents to invest in the human capital of their children. Thus, it did not remedy the damage that was done during the period of these legal racist practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-110
Number of pages16
JournalReview of Black Political Economy
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Economics and Econometrics


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