Racial Disparities in Health Care: The Intersection of Race and Women’s Health

Racial disparities in health care are one of many issues preventing the development of a truly equal society in many parts of the world, including the United States.

While African Americans account for approximately 13.6% of the US population, many fail to receive the same quality of health-related care as their Caucasian counterparts.

The inequalities in health care based on race also influence countless other communities and marginalized groups, causing an increase in fatalities and untreated ailments for millions of individuals.

The racial disparities in health care can have a disastrous impact on any person of color, but it can be particularly problematic for women, who often experience medical discrimination and bias based on their gender. Although access to health care for women in the US has improved over the years, the racial health gap remains a consistent problem, which must be addressed.

The History of Racial Disparities in Health Care

Racial disparities in health care for people of all genders have permeated the United States for decades. Hospitals only began de-segregating a relatively short time ago, in 1966, when they were threatened with the loss of federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Decades of poor policy changes made on a local, state, and federal level have led to significant economic suppression, residential segregation, and unequal access to educational resources. These factors have contributed to worse health care opportunities for people of color.

Today, African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native people all tend to statistically live fewer years on average than their Caucasian counterparts. These racial minorities are also more likely to die from treatable conditions, lose children during infancy, and suffer from complications during pregnancy, largely due to ongoing racial disparities in health care.

While policy changes in recent years are making headway towards a more equal society, the impact of previous examples of racial inequality have had a ripple effect on the landscape we know today. Research from Nancy Krieger of Harvard even found early exposure to Jim Crow laws, which allowed for racial discrimination throughout the US states, continued to cause issues with racial discrimination in health care decades later.

For instance, for African American women diagnosed with breast cancer, Krieger found being born in a Jim Crow state heightened their risk of more aggressive tumors.

Major Problems Contributing to Health Care Inequality

Racial disparities in health care vary from state to state in their severity, as well as in different countries around the world. In the United States, issues for women of color are exacerbated by a number of factors both inside and outside of the health care delivery landscape. For instance, in communities of color, poverty rates are often higher than average, and may be unable to access the right level of care financially.

Studies indicate that many people of color are less likely to have health insurance, and are more likely to incur medical debt than their white counterparts. Even with new innovations such as Medicare Advantage, which has helped increase access to care support, Medicare beneficiaries defined as minorities still have less access to a regular source of care.

These problems are compounded by a number of additional factors, such as:

1.      Reduced Investment in Health Care Research

Health care conditions which may be more common for African American women and people of color generally receive less government funding. For instance, uterine fibroids are more common among African American women. However, NIH funding for this health condition is almost 4 times lower than funding for cystic fibrosis research, which affects fewer people overall, but more Caucasian women.

One study by the JAMA network also found spending for Caucasian individuals in the health care landscape falls at around $8,141 per year, compared to only $7,361 per year for African American individuals.

2.      The Fight for Equal Care

Women are frequently neglected by the medical landscape, thanks to consistent gender discrimination and bias in the industry. This often means women, and particularly women of color, need to fight harder simply to access tests and support openly available to other people. For instance, Serena Williams had to demand a CAT scan to find potentially life-threatening blood clots.

According to a Pew research report, approximately 52% of younger African American women say they’ve had to fight to get proper care from a medical professional, compared to only 29% of their male counterparts.

3.      Insurance and Financial Barriers

As mentioned above, people belonging to minority communities are generally more likely to face issues such as unemployment and poverty. As a result, white people are less likely to face cost-related barriers to health care than those of color.

Women of color are also more likely to be underinsured, or uninsured, making it harder for them to access comprehensive and affordable health care coverage. A study by the Kaiser Family foundation discovered 23% of American Indian women, 22% of Hispanic women, and 12% of African American women are uninsured.

Additional Factors Causing Racial Disparities in Health Care

Alongside the issues mentioned, a person’s previous experiences with the health care system, and their preferences for care, can also be a factor. According to the Pew research study into racial disparities in health care, 45% of colored women between ages 18 to 49 say they would prefer to see an African American health care provider.

Notably, many of these women believe an African American care provider is better at looking after their best interests (41%). Unfortunately, lack of educational resources for people from minority cultures has led to a minimal increase in the number of diverse health care providers in recent years.

Where do Racial Disparities in Health Care Cause the Most Problems?

People of all age groups, genders, and ethnicities deserve access to the same quality of care. Inequality in the health care landscape is a significant and overarching problem in the US, as well as in many other parts of the world. However, the issue can be particularly problematic in certain areas.

For instance, maternity and sexual health care for African American women is a major concern. African American women are more likely to die as a result of a pregnancy complication than Caucasian women.

Statistics back up this racial disparity. Maternity mortality rates stand at 41.7 for every 100,000 live births for African American women, compared to only 13.4 per 100,000 births for white women.

This racial disparity continues even when adjusted for factors like income and age.

Lack of access to consistent health care and adequate insurance, combined with poor treatment in the health care landscape overall, also means African American women and other minorities are more likely to die from preventable and treatable diseases.

For example, African American women are more likely to die from both cervical cancer and breast cancer in the United States, simply because it’s often diagnosed at a much later stage for them, according to the CommonWealth Fund. Other forms of chronic disease are also more likely to become fatal.

For instance, the CommonWealth study found that people of color are more likely to die as a result of diabetes complications.

Is There a Solution for Racial Disparities in Health Care?

Racial disparities in health care (especially for women of color) are a long-standing and complex issue. Steps are already being taken in the US and in other parts of the world to improve equality. However, there’s still significant work left to be done.

Pew Research found that 47% of African American people believe health outcomes for their community have improved in the last 2 decades. However, 20% believe the problems have only gotten worse. Many African American women still believe they’re given less priority on average compared to Caucasians, and less support. Around 56% of respondents in the survey said they’ve had at least one negative experience with health care providers, forcing them to speak up to gain respect.

The problem appears to be particularly consistent for younger women in the medical landscape, with a majority of women aged 18 to 49 in the Pew report sharing negative health care experiences.

To address the issues facing people from all genders and races, governmental bodies and health care groups need to carefully examine the long-standing impact that racial disparities and inequalities are having on the health landscape. Health law should be updated to address structural biases and inequality which continue to influence the delivery of public health sectors.

Furthermore, more funding needs to be dedicated to improving the health of African American women and those from minority communities. Additionally, extra steps should be taken to ensure African American women have access to the right level of support and care throughout various aspects of their lives.

Protecting Your Health at Every Stage of Life

The racial disparities in health care present a significant challenge to people looking to protect their health and the health of their families in the USA. Although changes are being implemented, many women will need to be prepared to stand up and advocate for the level of care they need and deserve.

We often need to be our own advocates, especially when it comes to demanding treatment, imaging, scans, and other health care services. We need to stand up for what we deserve, and if we think a serious health issue could be happening to us, we should not back down.

Furthermore, education and information can be extremely valuable to women in minority communities. Understanding which medical issues you may be genetically predisposed to  could make it easier for you to fight for the support you truly need. Your CircleDNA test results can give you a wealth of information about some of the health concerns you could face based on your genetics, ethnicity and gender.

Use your DNA test to find out about genetic health risks you could speak to your doctor about to get better care. Using these helpful DNA insights, you can search for the right health care provider and get support based on your specific needs.


  1. Census: United States
  2. NVSS: Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for 2020
  3. Harvard: Nancy Krieger’s Faculty Website
  4. NCBI: Trends in Differences in Health Status and Health Care Access and Affordability by Race and Ethnicity in the United States, 1999-2018
  5. Endofound: The Disparities In health care For Black Women | EndoFound
  6. JAMA: US Health Care Spending by Race and Ethnicity, 2002-2016
  7. Commonwealth fund: Achieving Racial and Ethnic Equity in U.S. Health Care
  8. KFF: Women’s Health Insurance Coverage
  9. JAMA: Everyone Must Address Anti-Black Racism in Health Care

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