Psychological distress and race/ethnic group differences among the elderly: the role of behavioral risk factors and health history

Catherine N. Barry, University of California, Berkeley
Savet Hong, University of California, Berkeley

Using the 2007 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), we explore ethnic differences in measures of psychological distress among 14,486 elderly (aged 65 and older) respondents. Much of the literature regarding mental health ignores the elderly and often excludes sub-ethnic groups. Because of the growth in the size and diversity of the elderly U.S. population in recent years, understanding health-related issues are critical. After applying weights and controlling for socio-demographic factors such as education, household size, citizenship, English ability, health and labor force status, income levels and age, an ordinary least squares regression shows that African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, some U.S.-born Latinos with origins in South America, and multi-racial non-Latinos have lower psychological distress than non-Latino native-born whites. However, U.S. born Asian groups including Filipinos and other Southeast Asians such as the Vietnamese as well as U.S. born Latinos such as Salvadorans, Mexicans and Guatemalans exhibit psychological distress levels similar to native-born whites. Women, the unemployed, persons out of the labor force, and those living under 100% of the poverty level have higher levels of psychological distress than males, the employed, and those living at 200-299% of the poverty level. Greater household size is affiliated with lower levels of psychological distress. Citizenship and home ownership do not affect levels of psychological distress. Behavioral risk factors including smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as health history such as ever experiencing heart failure and presence of a condition limiting physical activity are then added. This model shows that African-Americans and multi-ethnic non-Latinos no longer show lower psychological distress than native-born whites, and those out of the labor force no longer display higher psychological distress. Ethnic variation exists in the psychological distress levels of the elderly in California, mitigated in certain groups by behavioral factors and health history, suggesting the need for further exploration.

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Presented in Poster Session 2