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Abstract

Social scientists have long been interested in the ways that early life and educational attainment are related to racial health disparities among older adults in the US. With this dissertation, I contribute to this literature by developing an approach to studying “race” and health that draws on experts in multiple disciplines: race thinkers and scholars, sociologists, andhistorians. With a “located” approach that situates my study sample in historical context, I use the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) to study a cohort of older adults born between 1938 and 1948 whose early lives and educational careers were shaped by legalized racial discrimination, postwar policies designed to benefit whites, and booming wartime and postwar economies that created opportunities for both Black and white Americans but primarily benefited whites. Using the idea of a system of Black subordination and white domination, I study how early life and access to education are two key ways that this system is maintained. Using latent class analysis to identify patterns in early life socioeconomic status and social environment, I find that Black adults were disproportionately more likely to come from socioeconomically disadvantaged starting points and white adults more likely to come from advantaged starting points. In this way, I found that Black subordination and white domination is an intergenerational phenomenon. Next, I investigate the relationship between these early life starting points and educational attainment to identify whether there are race differences in educational attainment by starting point. I found evidence that Black adults from this cohort were both left behind and locked out during a time of expanded educational opportunities. Finally, in the final chapter, I draw on the social consequences approach to health by investigating the health consequences of the Black subordination-white domination system. To do this, I develop a relational approach to studying the health consequences of this system. Using four health measures across different domains of health, I find that across early life starting points, Black adults have worse health than their white peers. With these results, I argue that the approach taken in this study can contribute to the way social scientists study the relationship between “race” and health.

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