While “race” is acknowledged as a social construct in the social sciences, research on racial health disparities has given less consideration to these dimensions of race. Specifically, these nuances of race have the potential to shape persistent disparities in adult physical health status.

In this study, the authors incorporate the social constructionist view that race is multidimensional to evaluate the health significance of two measures of race: racial self-identification and the socially perceived skin tone of black Americans.

Key Findings

  • Blacks have higher allostatic load (a biological indicator of physiological dysregulation) than whites.
  • Skin tone is a source of intragroup variation in allostatic load among blacks.
  • Black-white differences in allostatic load vary by blacks’ perceived skin tone.
  • Allostatic load disparity is smallest between whites and light-skinned blacks.
  • Results reflect the importance of both self-identified and socially assigned race measures.