This is an introduction to issue 41 of Today’s Research on Aging, authored by Paola Scommegna and Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
As the novel coronavirus has spread across the United States, Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by infections and deaths. Among Black Americans ages 65 and older, death rates from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, appear to be three times that of their white peers.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on well-documented and long-standing health disparities between Black and white Americans. Compared with their white counterparts, Black men and women have lower life expectancies and a higher prevalence of health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, dementia, stroke, and cancer.
Growing evidence suggests that a variety of social factors, not genetics, drive this health inequality—including lower levels of education and income, less access to and lower quality health care, and the toll that racism-related stress takes on the body’s defenses. These factors combine with a higher risk of exposure at work and in multigenerational households to help explain why older Black adults have been especially vulnerable to COVID-19 (download the full issue below).
This brief summarizes what we know about Black-white health inequality at older ages, focusing on the recent work of researchers supported by the National Institute on Aging. It explores trends and examines the underlying structural forces shaping racial health disparities. These findings can help lawmakers design policies to address these inequalities and help improve health and prevent early death among Black Americans.