Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences: Chapter 9 - Early origins of racial health disparities: human capital policy is health policy

Elsevier, Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences (Ninth Edition) Handbooks of Aging 2021, Pages 131-149
Rucker C. Johnson

Significant racial health disparities exist at all ages in the United States, but few studies have identified the causal sources that explain their large magnitude or earlier life origins. This chapter reviews the explosion of research over the past 15 years on the role of segregation, and resultant differences in childhood neighborhood quality, as fundamental causes of health disparities over the life course. We highlight the effectiveness of policies and targeted interventions designed to address unequal opportunities that accompany segregated environments in childhood. Programs that ensure more equitable opportunities and hold promise to reduce health disparities encompass education, public health, housing, and the safety net—and form the evidenced-based argument that human capital policy is health policy. A life course conceptual framework outlines how public investments in early childhood and human capital development help address the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, and ameliorate the persistence and reproduction of health inequality across generations.