Race/ethnic differences in nonspecific psychological distress: Evidence from the national health interview survey

Jenifer L. Bratter, Karl Eschbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Objective. This article documents the patterns of white-nonwhite differences in nonspecific psychological distress and explores how acculturation characteristics, social class, marital status, and chronic illness mediate or moderate these differences for eight racial/ethnic populations in the United States. Methods. We analyze data from a five-year pool of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) collected between 1997 and 2001 (N = 162,032) and employ multivariate regression techniques to explore level of psychological distress of various ethnic groups relative to non-Hispanic whites. Results. Nonwhite populations exhibit variable base-line differences in psychological distress compared to non-Hispanic whites; however, adjusted estimates show that African Americans and Mexicans have lower levels of distress while distress scores for "other Hispanics," Asians, and Cubans exhibit statistically similar levels. The highest distress occurs for Puerto Ricans. Interaction models reveal chronic sources of stress (e.g., poverty, chronic illness, nonmarriage) are even more taxing on psychological health of high-risk groups or have weaker relationships to stress for other groups. Conclusions. This study reveals the need for capturing ethnic variation in studies of mental health. Social class, acculturation, marital status, and chronic illness cannot fully explain white-nonwhite differences in psychological distress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-644
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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