University faculty member finds relationship between employment and access to health care

Saturday, July 1, 2017 - 5:50pm

New University of Michigan research find that employment leads to a higher life expectancy for white men. The study emphasizes that Black individuals, women and those from a lower educational background do not reap the benefits of employment to the same extent as their white, male counterparts do. 

The findings, published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, state employment allows the maximum health advantage for white males. Health advantage, measured by incidence of mortality, dropped 39 percent for Black employees (as compared to white employees), 30 percent for women (as compared to men), and 36 percent for those from a less educated background.

Shervin Assari, a research investigator for the University's medical school and School of Public Health, is a lead author of the study. He explained almost every health condition can be affected by an individual’s access to resources. If access to resources are limited, one’s health can suffer and mortality can rise. 

Factors such as education level, economic background, race and gender are called social determinants of health. They play a major role in access and, therefore, the well-being of a person.

The important effect of group membership and identity on the condition of life inspired Assari to do research in this area.

“U.S. society enhances life for whites, highly-educated and men,” Assari said. “For example, for every dollar that men make, the earning of women is just 80 cents. So there’s a 20 percent gender gap. It’s worse for race. The gap is larger for race. Racial gap in income generation is back to what it was 50 years ago.”

Over the course of two to three years, Assari analyzed data from the Americans' Changing Lives study from the University's Institute for Social Research. The ACL is the oldest, ongoing, national, longitudinal study to follow adult behavioral, social and psychological health since 1986.

Assari also used data from the ACL for previous research findings. For instance, he found education to be a risk factor for depression in Black men. Furthermore, among the older adult population, Black individuals appeared to die earlier from chronic disease than white individuals.

Public Health junior Jeff Sondheimer was intrigued by the study’s findings. Sondheimer, who is pursuing a degree in medicine, found the shortened life expectancy for women and Black individuals to be disheartening.

“In public health, we are taught that access to care and quality of care have a major impact on one's health,” Sondheimer said. “All the more so, social factors such as wealth, status and education strongly influence one's quality and access to care. I believe this is an interesting study that gets to the core of public health.”

Junior Will Schwartz, also a Public Health student pursuing pre-med, found the study unsurprising. Schwartz is hopeful the future will bring more studies surrounding public policy and its effect on health.

“I think a study on possible solutions to these disparities would be more useful than just identifying them,” Schwartz said.