An Analysis of Experiences of Discrimination and Functional Health Over the Life Course Among Women
Methods: Using a mixed effects regression model for a dichotomous outcome, we analyzed seven waves of data for female respondents (n=6,283) in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In the 1984 interview wave, respondent average age was 22.9 (SD=2.3). We examined data in six subsequent waves each separated by a four-year interval, constituting a total of 24 years. The repeated measure dependent variable was a self-reported dichotomous outcome of whether health had affected the kind of work respondents could perform in the previous year. The predictors of interest were constructed from two questions asked in the 1979 and 1982 survey waves: Do you believe (1) gender or (2) racial discrimination prevented you from getting a good job? Scores ranged between 0 for no experiences of discrimination to 4 where respondents affirmed experiencing both types of discrimination during those years. These responses were dummy-coded into two variables of reported discrimination: 0 versus 1 experience and 0 versus 2 or more experiences. Additional covariates included age at first wave, race, education, substance use, and measures of the number of times during the seven waves that respondents lived in poverty or had an obese Body Mass Index (30 or higher). Terms were included to model the linear and quadratic main effects of time. Interaction terms were also constructed to test if the effect of time varied by amount of reported discrimination.
Results: After covariate adjustment, the main effect of gender or racial discrimination was statistically significant. Respondents reporting one experience of discrimination had 70% higher odds of reporting that health limited the kind of work they could perform at each wave compared to those who reported no experiences of discrimination. Those with two or more experiences of discrimination had 159% higher odds. There was a significant positive and curvilinear time trend such that the relative odds of reporting functional health problems accelerated after 1996 when most respondents were nearing 40. There was no significant interaction between experience of discrimination and time.
Implications: Results of this study suggest that early experiences of race- and gender-based workplace discrimination are deleteriously related to women’s physical and mental well-being at later points and may limit the kind of work they can perform during their life. Evidence, however, indicates that effective culturally sensitive interventions can decrease workplace discrimination and provide protection against its negative health consequences for women. This underscores the need for social workers to explore how workplace discrimination might be detected early and act to ameliorate its adverse consequences.