In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Health Disparities

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Bibliographies
  • Mental Health
  • Policy
  • Teaching

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Social Work Health Disparities
Sarah Gehlert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0029


Health disparities is defined by the National Institutes of Health as differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States. According to United States Public Law 106–525, known as the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act, “a population is a health disparity population if there is a significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality, or survival rates in the population as compared to the health status of the general population” (p. 2498; see Policy). Although the vast majority of research in health disparities has focused on group differences by race or ethnicity, health disparities can occur by gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, sexual orientation, age, and location/geography. This bibliography’s primary focus is on disparities within the United States. These resources are meant to be useful to social work practice, policy, education, and research. While the identified references focus on social work applications, references dealing with clinical and policy-relevant issues that originate in other health professions and disciplines also are listed.


A few texts provide valuable overviews of health disparities. Although none to date has been generated within the field of social work, two texts in particular are useful for social work education, either for courses of health care of minorities or vulnerable populations or as adjunct texts in more generic health practice or policy courses. These texts also have value as resources for social workers and other professionals engaged in practice, policy, or research involving disparate populations. Of the texts listed in this section, Barr 2008 is the broadest, providing the most complete and encompassing overview of disparities. The author’s thoughtful analysis of central terms, such as race and health, and attention to devising solutions for disparities, is also valuable. With more than 250 references, it is useful in classroom teaching and raises essential questions for researchers in health and health care. LaVeist 2005 is the best for outlining demographic information, morbidity, and mortality of a number of racial/ethnic groups in the United States. It is an important text for students and researchers conducting research in health that cross-cuts racial/ethnicity and socioeconomic status and for social work and other practitioners attempting to understand group differences in health.

  • Barr, D. A. 2008. Health disparities in the United States: Social class, race, ethnicity, and health. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    Of value to graduate students and researchers as a source on social determinants of health disparities. Attention is paid to the effects of physician behavior. The author provides useful charts and graphs and defines key terms. The relationship between socioeconomic status, race, and health is also addressed.

  • LaVeist, T. 2005. Minority populations and health: An introduction to health disparities in the United States. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    This text contains information on racial/ethnic demographics, morbidity, and mortality, with a number of useful graphics. It reviews theories of racial/ethnic group differences in health and mental health, with attention to socioeconomic status, behavior, and availability of services.

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