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14 November 2022

Race/ethnic inequalities in health: moving beyond confusion to focus on fundamental causes

This commentary will focus on health inequalities in relation to race/ethnicity and, in doing so, it will connect with both the health inequalities chapter (Case and Kraftman, 2022) and the race and ethnicity chapter (Mirza and Warwick, 2022). The central argument of this commentary is that to make sense of the (complex and often confusing) patterning of race/ethnic inequalities in health in the UK and to move towards developing policy to address these inequalities, we must adopt a theoretically informed approach that centres the fundamental causes of race/ethnic inequalities – processes that flow from (structural, interpersonal and institutional) racism. To make this argument, first I critically review the data on race/ethnic inequalities in health and interpretations of these data. Second, I discuss the central role of social and economic inequalities in driving these inequalities. Third, I provide a more detailed discussion of how racism operates to shape social and economic inequalities and thereby to shape health outcomes. Fourth, I discuss the implications of this analysis for policy, particularly how this points to the need to address institutional racism and how this might be done. Finally, I briefly revisit the question of fundamental causes and the implications of this for considerations of other dimensions of inequality, such as those related to class and gender.

Cite this as:

Nazroo, J. (2022), ‘Race/ethnic inequalities in health: moving beyond confusion to focus on fundamental causes’, IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities,