Important Definitions to Know

Health Disparities

  • Differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of disease and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups compared to the reference group (most often non-Hispanic whites).
  • Other definitions define disparities as differences that are avoidable, unfair, and unjust.

Carter-Pokras, O and C Baquet, What is a health disparity? Public Health Reports, 117, pp. 426-434, 2002;, accessed 10/3/2009; and Braveman P, Health Disparities and Health Equity Concepts and Measurement, Annu. Rev. Public Health, 27:167-94, 2006.

Health Care Disparities

  • Health care disparities are defined as differences in access to or quality of health care services not due to patient choice or disease course.
  • Health care disparities are among the many causes of health disparities but they are not the only cause of health disparities.

Types of Health Disparities

Many individuals and/or populations experience health disparities, for example, because of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, geographic location, sex, age, physical/mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and others.

How Do We Define Race?

Race is a social category, not a biological category. It is a concept that has changed over time and is variable across societies.” (LaVeist LaVeist, 1994) , 1994)

“We give race meaning when we replicate racialized behaviors and fuel the behaviors and fuel the racialized systems. Our constructions of race sometimes signify religious beliefs, sometimes phenotype, sometimes origin or language.” (Powell, 2013)

LaVeist, TA. Beyond Dummy Variables and Sample Selection: What Health Services Researchers Ought To Know about Race as a Variable, Health Services Research 1994, 29:1-16. Powell, JA. How Implicit Bias and Structural Racialization Can Move Us Toward Social and Personal Healing in Pathways to Racial Healing and Equity in the American South, 2013, 32-43.

Race - Definition

OMB Directive 15 establishing standards for collection of race and ethnicity data in 1977 specified, “The categories…represent a political-social construct…and are not anthropologically or scientifically based.”

Racial/ethnic groupings do not correspond to human biogenetic variation.

LaVeist TA, Minority Populations and Health An Introduction to Health Disparities in the United States, pp. 25 and 154, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2005.


Intersectionality perspectives recognize multiple interlocking identities that are that are defined in terms of relative sociocultural power and privilege and shape people’s individual and collective identities and experiences.

Stephanie Shields, Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective, Sex Roles, 59 (301-311), 2008.