Racial Disparities in the Health Benefits of Educational Attainment: A Study of Inflammatory Trajectories Among African American and White Adults

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Claremont McKenna College, Psychology (CMC)

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Objective: The current study examined the prospective effects of educational attainment on proinflammatory physiology among African American and white adults.

Methods: Participants were 1192 African Americans and 1487 whites who participated in Year 5 (mean [standard deviation] age = 30 [3.5] years), and Year 20 (mean [standard deviation] age = 45 [3.5]) of an ongoing longitudinal study. Initial analyses focused on age-related changes in fibrinogen across racial groups, and parallel analyses for C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 assessed at Year 20. Models then estimated the effects of educational attainment on changes in inflammation for African Americans and whites before and after controlling for four blocks of covariates: a) early life adversity, b) health and health behaviors at baseline, c) employment and financial measures at baseline and follow-up, and d) psychosocial stresses in adulthood.

Results: African Americans had larger increases in fibrinogen over time than whites (B = 24.93, standard error = 3.24, p < .001), and 37% of this difference was explained after including all covariates. Effects of educational attainment were weaker for African Americans than for whites (B = 10.11, standard error = 3.29, p = .002), and only 8% of this difference was explained by covariates. Analyses for C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 yielded consistent results.

Conclusions: The effects of educational attainment on inflammation levels were stronger for white than for African American participants. Why African Americans do not show the same health benefits with educational attainment is an important question for health disparities research.

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