Intersectionality Perspective and Health Inequalities

Intersectionality Perspective and Health Inequalities


Institute of Affiliation



Health inequality is a situation where some groups in a society have worse health than others. In the US, health inequality has been a persistent problem that mainly stems from disparities in income and wealth. On average, people with high-income levels have better health and access to health care services than the poor. An intersectional perspective, however, addresses the health inequality problem beyond the impact of socioeconomic status. The perspective analyzes health disparities based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, migration status, and sexual orientation (Hankivsky et al., 2017). However, unlike the intersectionality perspective, the biomedical approach addresses the differences in biological functioning or risk factors between various social groups (Hankivsky et al., 2017). The inequality in health can be studied from the intersectionality perspective through addressing the impacts of the social factors such as race, socioeconomic status, gender, and immigrant status, which varies from the biomedical approach that focuses on disparities based on the biological aspects. In this regard, this paper applies the intersectionality perspective to describe health inequalities in society and makes a comparison with the biomedical approach Intersectionality Perspective and Health Inequalities.


From an intersectionality perspective, the race is one of the most significant factors contributing to health inequality. In the US, for instance, Hispanics and Blacks have a higher risk of getting health problems than whites. As noted in a study conducted by Tessum et al. (2019), Blacks and Hispanics are disadvantaged since they are exposed more to pollution than Whites. The non-Hispanic Whites contribute more to pollution than the Blacks and Hispanics. Despite this, the exposure of the non-Hispanic whites to pollution is lower by 17 percent relative to the Blacks and Hispanics (UW News Staff, 2019). At the same time, UW News Staff (2019) noted that the pollution the Blacks are exposed to is 56 percent more than they generate. In the same vein, the Hispanics experience 63 percent more pollution than they release (UW News Staff, 2019). The main reason is that Hispanics and Blacks are relatively more probable to exist in areas with high pollution levels than non-Hispanic whites. In comparison with the non-Hispanic Whites, the Blacks and Hispanics bear the issue of the pollution burden (UW News Staff, 2019). As such, this indicates that Hispanics and Blacks have a higher risk of developing health problems emanating from pollutants than Whites.

Another fundamental factor contributing to health inequality in society is socioeconomic status. Income disparities are linked to health inequality. In the US, for instance, groups of people with low incomes have relatively higher risks of getting health problems. Results derived from empirical studies indicate that non-Hispanic whites have higher incomes than Hispanics and Blacks (Beckfield, Olafsdottir & Sosnaud, 2013). People with higher incomes are likely to have higher access to quality health care than the poor. In addition, the level of income influences the access and quality of resources such as food, water, and housing. Unlike the wealthy, for instance, the poor may be unable to eat a balanced diet. The poor may also lack adequate access to food (Hankivsky et al., 2017). As such, they have a relatively higher risk of developing illnesses caused by malnutrition. The level of income also influences access to healthy foods. In the US, around 23.5 million people live in neighborhoods regarded as food deserts since they lack affordable and healthy foods (Hankivsky et al., 2017). Approximately half of such people have low incomes.

Health disparities also vary based on gender from an intersectionality perspective. The differences in health between men and women usually stem from gendered differences. Milken Institute conducted a study in 2017 in the US to determine whether there were gender disparities in health (Hay et al., 2019). The results derived from the study indicated the presence of significant gender disparities in health. Based on the results, women had higher levels of depression than men. Conversely, men had relatively higher engagement rates in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and alcohol drinking than women (Hay et al., 2019). The results showed that men had higher rates of health problems emanating from such risky behaviors than women Intersectionality Perspective and Health Inequalities.

The inequality in health can also be influenced by immigrant status from an intersectionality perspective. On average, the immigrants have lower access to health care services than the nationals without such a status. One reason is that the immigrants face many restrictions in accessing health care through government-sponsored programs (Stathopoulou et al., 2018). The second reason is that, in some cases, the immigrants have poor economic statuses. Examples are the refugees that migrate to countries such as the US and Canada. Some of the immigrants may not be refugees but still have poor economic backgrounds. Consequently, poverty leads them to have limited access to healthcare (Stathopoulou et al., 2018). Also, such immigrants are likely to live in neighborhoods where they are disproportionately exposed to environmental pollution. In this regard, immigrant status is one of the fundamental causes of health inequality.

As explained, the intersectionality perspective differs significantly from the medical one. Unlike the intersectionality perspective, the medical approach addresses disparities based on the biological aspects. The focus of the biomedical approach is to determine how the psychosocial and behavioral factors, among others, influence the physiological functioning of different groups of people in society (Hankivsky et al., 2017). From a biomedical perspective, for instance, the elderly who engage in physical exercises frequently have relatively lower chances of developing stroke and heart diseases than senior citizens who do not exercise. Also, from a biomedical point of view, groups of people with low immunity have a higher probability of getting opportunistic diseases and die because of Covid-19. As well, elderly persons with healthcare problems have relatively higher rates of mental distress (Hankivsky et al., 2017). Thus, the biomedical perspective addresses the disparities in biological functioning. Conversely, the intersectionality perspective focuses on the complex social factors that contribute to the health of groups of people (Hankivsky et al., 2017). The biomedical perspective is concerned with the internal processes that occur within the body that impact health. However, the intersectionality perspective focuses on the external factors that influence health.


Overall, the health care inequalities can be understood from the intersectionality perspective through addressing the social causes of the disparities. As explained, race, socioeconomic status, gender, and immigrant status are examples of the social factors that contribute to health inequality. Unlike the intersectionality perspective that focuses on the social factors, the biomedical one addresses health disparities based on biological aspects between different groups. The biomedical perspective focuses on the internal processes that influence health, while the intersectionality approach is concerned with the external social factors. References

Beckfield, J., Olafsdottir, S., & Sosnaud, B. (2013). Healthcare systems in comparison

Perspective: classification, convergence, institutions, inequalities, and five missed turns. Annual review of sociology, 39, 127-146. Do: 10.1146/annurev-Soc-071312-145609

Hankivsky, O., Doyal, L., Einstein, G., Kelly, U., Shim, J., Weber, L., & Repta, R. (2017). The

Odd couple: using biomedical and intersectional approaches to address health inequities. Global health action, 10 (2), 1326686. Do:

Hay, K. Et al. (2019). Disrupting gender norms in health systems: making a case for

Change. Lancet (London, England)393 (10190), 2535–2549. Do:

Stathopoulou, T., Stornes, P., Mouriki, A., Kostaki, A., Cavounidis, J., Avrami, L., McNamara,

C. L., Rapp, C., & Eikemo, T. A. (2018). Health inequalities among migrant and native-born populations in Greece in times of crisis: the MIGHEAL study. European journal of public health28 (5), 5–19. Do: Intersectionality Perspective and Health Inequalities.