Linking perceived discrimination during adolescence to health during mid-adulthood: Self-esteem and risk-behavior mechanisms

Tse Chuan Yang, I. Chien Chen, Seung won Choi, Aysenur Kurtulus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Rationale: The literature on the effect of perceived discrimination on health has three gaps. First, the long-term relationship between perceived discrimination and health is underexplored. Second, the mechanisms through which perceived discrimination affects health remain unclear. Third, most studies focus on racial/ethnic discrimination, and other aspects of discrimination are overlooked. Objective: This study aims to fill these gaps by testing a research framework that links the discriminatory experience during adolescence to an individual's health during mid-adulthood via self-esteem and risk behaviors at early adulthood. Method: Structural equation modeling is applied to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 Cohort (N = 6478). Results: The discriminatory experience during adolescence imposes an adverse impact on health during mid-adulthood even after accounting for other potential covariates, a detrimental effect lasting for over 30 years. In addition, while perceived discrimination reduces self-esteem at early adulthood, it affects only mental health during mid-adulthood, rather than general health. Finally, the discriminatory experience promotes risk behaviors at early adulthood and the risk behaviors subsequently compromise health during mid-adulthood. Conclusions: Using a life course perspective, we find that the effect of perceived discrimination is more profound than the literature suggested and that risk behaviors may account for approximately 17% of the total effect of perceived discrimination on health. Our findings highlight the importance of early interventions in coping with perceived discrimination during adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-443
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Health
  • Life course
  • Perceived discrimination
  • Risk behaviors
  • Self-esteem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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