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How discrimination may affect your health from youth to old age

An Indiana University study found that teens and young adults who are members of multiple minority or disadvantaged groups face more discrimination than their more privileged peers and, as a result, report worse mental and physical health. Grollman's study, "Multiple Forms of Perceived Discrimination and Health Among Adolescents and Young Adults," appears online May 15, 2012 and in print in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

How discrimination may affect your health from youth to old age.
Anne Hart, illustration and photography.

In general, as the number of minority or disadvantaged groups to which young people belonged increased -- reflecting their gender, socioeconomic status, race and sexual identity -- the number of forms of discrimination they experienced and their frequency of exposure to discrimination also increased. As a result of their exposure to more forms of and more frequent discrimination, multiply disadvantaged teens and young adults experienced the most health problems.

"Past work on discrimination and health focused on adults and examined the relationship between discrimination and health by only looking at one form of discrimination," said Eric Anthony Grollman, according to the June 11, 2012 news release, "Young people of multiple disadvantaged groups face worse health due to more discrimination." Grollman is a doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington. "For me, these new findings really speak to the importance of looking at the multiple dimensions of discrimination and health. You cannot capture an individual's full experience and well-being by just looking at race, for example."

For the study, Grollman analyzed responses from 1,052 participants in the Black Youth Culture Survey of the University of Chicago's Black Youth Project. These data, which also included responses from young people who were Latino and white, provided a nationally representative sample that was diverse and evenly distributed across ages of survey participants, who were 15 to 25 years old.

Grollman's study considered four forms of discrimination -- based on race, gender, sexual orientation and social class -- as well as the frequency of discrimination

Teens and young adults in his study reported experiencing nearly two forms of discrimination on average. Those who were not from a minority or disadvantaged group (i.e., white, heterosexual males, whose families were never on welfare) reported experiencing 1.6 forms; those from one minority or disadvantaged group reported experiencing 1.7 forms; those from two reported experiencing 1.9 forms; those from three reported experiencing 2.1 forms; and those from four reported experiencing 2.8 forms.

When comparing teens and young adults who were not members of a minority or disadvantaged group with young people who were members of only one such group, Grollman found little difference in their reports of the number of forms and the frequency of discrimination they experienced. "Teens and young adults who are members of only one minority or disadvantaged group are virtually indistinguishable from young people who are not members of any of these types of groups in terms of their exposure to discrimination and their health status," Grollman said, according to the news release.

A gap between teens and young adults who were not members of a minority or disadvantaged group and young people who were members of such groups became increasingly apparent, however, as the number of minority or disadvantaged groups increased.

Other findings from the study include:

  • More than half of the young people reported experiencing two or more forms of discrimination, and 13 percent reported experiencing all four forms of discrimination
  • The measurements for depressive symptoms looked at the number of days teens and young adults reported feeling blue in the past month (from 0 to 30) plus the number of days they reported feeling disinterested in things in the past month (from 0 to 30), for a scale ranging from 0 to 60. Young people who were not members of a minority or disadvantaged group averaged a score of 8.3, with the number increasing to 18.7 for those who were members of four such groups.
  • The self-rated scale for physical health ranged from 0 (fair/poor) to 3 (excellent). Teens and young adults who were not members of a minority or disadvantaged group averaged a score of 1.9; those from one averaged 1.9; those from two averaged 1.7; those from three averaged 1.6; and those from four averaged 1.3.

Productive aging could be compared to workplace production

That depends on who you ask and who thinks you're spent (regarding energy) rather than who's spending what amount on you. It seems like society is more about promoting anti-aging products than about increasing productive aging. The popularity of restorative medicine is growing, but what about functional productivity? Older adults are told, "You're retired. It's time to relax." But older adults may want continuity.

A person is hired when the individual presents the least financial risk to the employer. But are older workers perceived as being spent? Or is the issue about how much the employer spends on the older worker? For example, are insurance rates too high to handle older workers because of fear of health concerns due to age?

The more you feel spent, the more you're encouraged to productivity in another area of lifestyle, activities, or nutrition. You're told it's not a face lift, it's a lifestyle elevation. But sometimes the lift in life can come from watching travel videos for those who have outlived their savings and can't afford to hike the Alps at eighty and better. There are research projects that mention the rising numbers of retirees that "threaten the continuity." Threaten? But continuity is a time line.

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, state governments face the likelihood of higher workforce turnover. For example, in the state of Missouri, more than 25 percent of all active state employees will be eligible to retire by 2016, says recent research in another study, “A case study of Missouri’s deferred retirement incentive for state employees,” by authors Curl, A.L. and Havig, K., appearing online April 9, 2014 in the Journal of Aging & Social Policy. Productive aging and the topic of prevention in healthcare are the big pictures for older adults to consider.

Father Time is married to Mother Nature in the workforce. And life seems to revolve around the workforce and productivity. Without productivity and the workforce, there's that feeling of dependence and restriction. But dependence and restriction also is about employees and their bosses where cooperation is needed for productivity.

Or perhaps reach an age where it's possible to make peace with the community by reaching out and really enjoying the sights of nature. But tell that to the senior citizen survivors of assault, robbery, and burglaries where they can't even step out of their houses at night for fear of being harassed by youth. Young people are afraid of the elder rage of seniors with certain types of dementia where the senior becomes violent due to brain issues. And older adults who are not violent are scared of youth who perceive them as people without much muscle, the time-worn 'sarcopeniacs'.

Such large number of retirees threaten the continuity?

Such large numbers of retirees threaten the continuity, membership and institutional histories of the state government workforce, according to Angela Curl, assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Social Work. In a case study of the state of Missouri’s Deferred Retirement Option Provision (BackDROP), Curl concluded that states may need to restructure deferred retirement incentives to encourage more employees to remain on the job longer and minimize the disruption to government operations. Who's responsible for the health of people as they age, the individuals or the safety nets?

Does the aging freelancer, independent contractor, or consultant need a different long-term strategy from the aging workforce working for government, education, military, or private industry? With so many women who worked in various part-time positions receiving no pensions, perks, or retirement pay buy-outs, who provides for the long-term maintenance of an aging population and the healthcare (including disease prevention and nutrition) of the people? Is it the individual, the employer, or the government? And then there's the topic of retention and turnover in the workplace.

“Employers need to ask if their organizations are designed to promote turnover or promote retention,” Curl said, according to the April 3, 2014 news release by Anne Allen, Aging workforce requires new strategies for employee retention, MU researcher says. “States should recognize the benefits of promoting retention. Using delayed retirement incentives to encourage retention is important, particularly when dealing with older employees.”

Curl said that a good system of employee retention is inclusive, flexible and accounts for the wide range of circumstances that retirement-eligible employees may consider when deciding to defer retirement

These circumstances could include caregiving for older parents or having a spouse who is retired. In Missouri, BackDROP offers a one-time payment equaling 90 percent of what employees would have received in benefits for an additional five years of service as incentive to delay retirement.

The best predictors of whether state employees chose to delay retirement were: their levels of awareness of retirement options, job functions, and how old they were before they became eligible for deferring retirement. The more aware employees were of BackDROP, the more likely they were to defer retirement. Employees who became eligible for deferring retirement at an older age also were more likely to choose to work longer.

Curl’s study was designed to see if race, sex, level of education and marital status played a significant role in retirement-eligible employees’ decisions to defer retirement

The study of 296 Missouri state employees eligible for BackDROP revealed that these social demographics did not play significant roles in employees’ decision to work longer. “Deferred retirement options like BackDROP may be effective at retaining skilled employees in positions that are difficult to fill,” Curl said, according to the news release. “Often, state employees retire and go on to second careers in the private sector.”

Kirsten Havig, who received her doctorate from MU, co-authored the paper and now works at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. The School of Social Work is part of the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. Since the case study was completed, the state of Missouri discontinued BackDROP for new hires. You also may wish to see the abstract of another study, "No foot in the door: An experimental study of employment discrimination against older workers." Or you may wish to check out, "Productive aging: A feminist critique," or "Age-Friendly Portland: A University-City-Community Partnership."

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