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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2019 May 24. pii: gbz068. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz068. [Epub ahead of print]

Death by a Thousand Cuts: Stress Exposure and Black-White Disparities in Physiological Functioning in Late Life.



This paper investigates Black-White differences in stress-including diverse measures of chronic, acute, discrimination-related, and cumulative stress exposure-and examines whether race differences in these stress measures mediate Black-White disparities in C-reactive protein (CRP) and metabolic dysregulation in later life.


Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (2004-2012), this study uses stepwise OLS regression models to examine the prospective associations between multiple stressors-including traumatic and stressful life events, financial strain, chronic stress, everyday and major life discrimination, and measures of cumulative stress burden-and CRP and metabolic dysregulation. Mediation analyses assessed the contribution of stress exposure to Black-White disparities in the outcomes.


Blacks experienced more stress than Whites across domains of stress, and stress exposure was strongly associated with CRP and metabolic dysregulation. Race differences in financial strain, everyday and major life discrimination, and cumulative stress burden mediated Black-White gaps in the outcomes, with measures of cumulative stress burden mediating the greatest proportion of the racial disparities.


The "thousand cuts" that Blacks experience from their cumulative stress exposure across domains of social life throughout the life course accelerate their physiological deterioration relative to Whites and play a critical role in racial health disparities at older ages.


life course; physiological functioning; racial health disparities; stress


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