An empirical analysis of White privilege, social position and health

Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Melody S. Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accumulated evidence has demonstrated that social position matters for health. Those with greater socioeconomic resources and greater perceived standing in the social hierarchy have better health than those with fewer resources and lower perceived standing. Race is another salient axis by which health is stratified in the U.S., but few studies have examined the benefit of White privilege. In this paper, we investigated how perceptions of inequality and subjective and objective social status affected the health and well-being of N=630 White residents in three Boston neighborhoods lying on a social gradient differentiated by race, ethnicity, income and prestige. Outcomes were self-rated health, dental health, and happiness. Results suggested that: neighborhood residence was not associated with health after controlling for individual level factors (e.g., positive ratings of the neighborhood, education level); objective measures of socioeconomic status were associated with better self-reported and dental health, but subjective assessments of social position were more strongly associated; and White residents living in the two wealthiest neighborhoods, and who perceived Black families as welcome in their neighborhoods enjoyed better health than those who believed them to be less welcome. However, those who lived in the least wealthy and most diverse neighborhood fared worse when reporting Black families to be welcome. These results suggest that White privilege and relative social position interact to shape health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-160
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Inequality
  • Neighborhood
  • Social position
  • Socioeconomic status
  • White privilege
  • Whites/European Americans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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