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Beware of Being Unaware: Racial Disparities in Chronic Illness in the US

Pinka Chatterji, H Joo and Kajal Lahiri ()

Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers from HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York

Abstract: We study racial/ethnic disparities in awareness of chronic diseases using biomarker data from the 2006 HRS. We explore two alternative definitions of awareness, and estimate a 3-step sequential model which accounts for selection along measured and unmeasured factors into: (1) participating in biomarker collection, (2) having illness (hypertension or diabetes), and (3) being aware of illness. Our findings suggest that current estimates of racial/ethnic disparities in chronic disease are sensitive to selection, and also to the definition of disease awareness that is used. Contrary to prior studies reporting that African-Americans are more aware of having hypertension than non-Latino whites, we do not find this conclusion to be true after self-selection and severity are considered. Likewise, prior studies show mixed evidence of racial/ethnic disparities in awareness of diabetes, but after accounting for selection, we find that African- Americans and Latinos are less aware of having diabetes compared to non-Latino whites. These findings are based on a widely used definition of awareness – the likelihood of self-reporting disease among those who have disease. When we use an alternative definition of awareness, which considers an individual to be unaware if s/he actually has the disease but self-reports not having it, we find striking racial/ethnic disparities in awareness.

New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hea
Date: 2011-07
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