Racial Disparities in Medical Spending: Healthcare Expenditures for Black and White Households (2013–2015)

Raphaël Charron-Chénier, Collin W. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Medical expenditures represent a major financial burden that can hinder families’ ability to acquire other goods and services. How patterns of out-of-pocket medical expenditures vary across black and white households, however, remains unclear. Because blacks have poorer health than whites on average, one could assume that black households experience greater medical spending burdens than socioeconomically similar white households. Research on racial disparities in access to health services, however, suggests that blacks are less likely to receive medical care than whites with similar medical needs. Barriers to healthcare access and utilization could entail lower out-of-pocket medical spending for black households, despite their greater medical needs. Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, this paper examines patterns of out-of-pocket healthcare spending for black and white households. By comparing households across socioeconomic status, insurance status, and age, we demonstrate that black households consistently spend less on medical care than white households do. These trends are consistent with pervasive barriers to healthcare access and utilization for blacks relative to whites and suggest that policy interventions aimed at alleviating health inequality should not focus on subsidies and monetary incentives alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-133
Number of pages21
JournalRace and Social Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Health care
  • Healthcare access
  • Household spending
  • Medical expenditures
  • Racial inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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