Perceived racism and self and system blame attribution: Consequences for longevity

Thomas A. LaVeist, Robert Sellers, Harold W. Neighbors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


In this article, we examine the National Survey of Black Americans to assess the relationship between perceived racism, self and system blaming attribution and survival. Perceived exposure to racism and other covariates were measured at baseline (1979) with a mortality follow up 13 years later (1992). We test the hypothesis that an external attributional orientation (which we refer to as system blaming) as opposed to an internal attributional orientation (which we refer to as self blaming) will be protective of health (as measured at 13-year survival) when individuals are exposed to racism. Using Cox proportional hazards regression modeling, we found support for our hypothesis. African Americans with a system-blaming orientation who reported experiencing racism were more likely to survive the 13-year follow-up period, compared to self blamers who did not perceive themselves to have been exposed to racism (OR = .37, Cl95: .21,.64). Controlling for other known correlates of survival (age, health status at baseline, sex, marital status, smoking, and income) did not eliminate the significant effect of self-blame orientation among those exposed to racism (OR = .43, Cl95: .23,.82). The findings suggest that the attribution of negative events to external factors, such as systemic societal racism, rather than to individual characteristics, may be adaptive and protective of health status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-721
Number of pages11
JournalEthnicity and Disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Mortality
  • Racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Medicine(all)


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