Structural racism, economic opportunity and racial health disparities: Evidence from U.S. counties

Rourke O'Brien, Tiffany Neman, Nathan Seltzer, Linnea Evans, Atheendar Venkataramani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


In this study, we introduce the ‘racial opportunity gap’ as a place-based measure of structural racism for use in population health research. We first detail constructing the opportunity gap using race-sex specific estimates of intergenerational economic mobility outcomes for a recent cohort. We then illustrate its utility in examining spatial variation in the racial mortality gap. First we demonstrate a correlation between the racial opportunity gap and the racial mortality gap across U.S. counties; where the gap in the adult earnings of black and white children born to families at the same income level is greater so, too, is the gap in mortality. Second, we show in a multivariable framework that the racial opportunity gap is associated with the racial mortality gap net of differences in the socioeconomic composition of the two groups. In so doing, we aim to provide population health researchers with a new empirical tool and analytic framework for examining the role of structural racism in generating racial health disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100564
JournalSSM - Population Health
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Inequality
  • Mortality
  • Population health
  • Race
  • Racial health disparities
  • Racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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