Black men face more heath problems because of childhood adversity

Wynne Davis

Black men are more likely to experience hardships with relationships and health issues as adults, according to UT researchers.

The study, headed by sociology professor Debra Umberson, surveyed black and white men and women and asked them about childhood adversity, their health and relationships as adults over a 15-year period.

“There are very clear racial disparities in health in the United States, and we know that there are very clear racial differences in levels of childhood adversity,” Umberson said.

During the study, researchers defined adversity to include financial difficulties, stress, having parents with mental illnesses and the death of a parent before the age of 16. Umberson said the quality of social relationships during childhood factors into adult health.

“Relationships, just like education and income, aren’t equally distributed in the population,” Umberson said. “Some groups are more disadvantaged than others. Black men are especially disadvantaged in terms of their relationships in adulthood.”

University of Ohio associate professor Kristi Williams, who worked on the study while a student at UT, said she believes the government needs to focus on improving the conditions black men face as children in order to improve their adult lives.

“Interventions that focus only on proximal causes, such as relationship skills, are likely to be ineffective if they don’t address the more fundamental causes linked to poverty and cumulative disadvantage over the life course,” Williams said.

Sociology graduate student Mieke Thomeer, who worked with Umberson on the study, said improving employment of parents and improving mental health care would be helpful.

Umberson said men’s reactions to stress causes them disadvantages.

“When [men] face stress [they] are more likely to engage in that fight-or-flight response,” Umberson said.