Discrimination and Subjective Well-Being: Protective Influences of Membership in a Discriminated Category

By Hnilica, Karel | Central European Journal of Public Health, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Discrimination and Subjective Well-Being: Protective Influences of Membership in a Discriminated Category


Hnilica, Karel, Central European Journal of Public Health


SUMMARY

Background: Research reveals that discrimination has harmful effects on health and quality of life. Among the most frequent types of discrimination pertains gender and age discrimination. Research results show that discriminatory behaviours based on gender afflict predominantly women; age discrimination afflicts mainly older adults. At the same time, it has been found that members of these traditionally discriminated categories often use strategies that mitigate the effects of discrimination.

Hypotheses: Discrimination will have detrimental effects on subjective well-being. But its effects will be most harmful for persons who are not members of the traditionally discriminated categories.

Methods: These hypotheses were tested on data from three waves of the European Social Survey that the Czech Republic also participated in. Data were analyzed in a series of multilevel random coefficients regression analyses with respondents nested within states and states nested within years of study.

Results: Both perceived gender discrimination and perceived age discrimination have negative effects on subjective well-being. However, gender discrimination had more harmful effects on the subjective well-being of men than women and age discrimination had the most harmful effects on the subjective well-being of people in their middle ages, not the elderly ones.

Conclusion: Discrimination does not need to have most harmful effects on the quality of life of members of the categories that are discriminated against most often.

Key words: gender discrimination, age discrimination, subjective well-being, social category

INTRODUCTION

Research results show that discrimination, i. e. disadvantaging individuals on the basis of their membership in some social category or group, has negative influences on health and quality oflife (1-11). For example, Williams and his colleagues (11) have analyzed 53 primary studies. In most of these studies a detrimental effects of discrimination on physical as well as subj ecti ve health perception and on indicators oflife quality, such as anxiety, depression, psychological stress, happiness and satisfaction with life, were reported. According to these authors, the most common types of discrimination are based on race/ethnicity, gender, age, and appearance.

At the same time, some authors show that members of the discriminated categories may use strategies which mitigate the influences of discrimination (12-18), among them strategies based on self-categorization. Members of a discriminated category may take advantage of the fact that their category is known to be discriminated against. They may attribute their personal failures to discrimination, not to their own activities and qualities, compare themselves with other members of their category and avoid comparison with members of more successful categories, choose for inter-group comparisons only some dimensions, etc. (12, 13). Membership in a discriminated category thus may facilitate adaptation to discrimination (21).

Hypotheses

The results of the aforementioned studies led to assumption that discrimination has harmful effects on the quality of life of persons discriminated against, and at the same time, that it has more harmful influences on the quality oflife of persons, who are not members of the traditionally discriminated categories. These persons do not expect themselves to be discriminated against, cannot attribute discrimination to social-structural factors, and have at their disposal a more restricted repertoire of strategies for coping with discrimination.

This study pays attention to two forms of discrimination: gender discrimination (sexism) and age discrimination (ageism). The first one is associated predominantly with females and the second one is prevailing among old people.

Four hypotheses are proposed:

1. Gender discrimination have detrimental influences on subjective well-being of the persons discriminated against. …

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