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J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl:S15-27. doi: 10.1177/0022146510383838.

Understanding racial-ethnic disparities in health: sociological contributions.

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Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


This article provides an overview of the contribution of sociologists to the study of racial and ethnic inequalities in health in the United States. It argues that sociologists have made four principal contributions. First, they have challenged and problematized the biological understanding of race. Second, they have emphasized the primacy of social structure and context as determinants of racial differences in disease. Third, they have contributed to our understanding of the multiple ways in which racism affects health. Finally, sociologists have enhanced our understanding of the ways in which migration history and status can affect health. Sociological insights on racial disparities in health have important implications for the development of effective approaches to improve health and reduce health inequities.

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