Request Info

Department of Public Health Sciences Alumni Conduct Research on Racial Disparities Among American Film Celebrities

In the United States, racial disparities in health outcomes are attributed to racial bias and socioeconomic inequalities. It remains unknown, however, whether racial disparities in mortality persist among those with occupational prestige and a higher socioeconomic status (SES), which include income, education, occupation. These are often considered as a product of policy and culture often studied in context with its effect on health. As the celebrity population is characterized by high levels of individuals in these two categories, researchers investigated the survival differences between black and white film celebrities in a paper published in the Interactive Journal of Medical Research.

Researchers of the study extracted data from Wikipedia, a web-based, open-source encyclopedia, and analyzed 5,829 entries of randomly selected American film actors and actresses born between 1900 and 2000. A Kaplan-Meier survival curve was conducted using 4,356 entries to compare the difference in survival by race. To examine whether adjusting for year of birth, gender, and cause of death influenced differences in survival by race, researchers applied a Cox semiparametric regression analysis.

“There is a lot of information that is open-source on Wikipedia. You could make health records out of all the information on Wikipedia because some of them are so inclusive. I'd look and no one had really ever collected any health information out of Wikipedia, which was surprising to me,” said Hannah Speaks, an alumna of the M.S.P.H. program in the Miller School of Medicine's Department of Public Health Sciences, who served as the lead author on the study. “When I started looking into occupational prestige, I saw that we have this measure that's capped by a whole culture of people. We determine who is notable in our society. Unlike other measures that look at how you affect your community or the people around you, like professors, teachers, and leaders, celebrities are typically not included in that.”

A majority of the sample was male and were born in the U.S. While cardiovascular disease and cancer were the top two causes of death, most of the causes were unknown. Findings showed that black film celebrities died 6.4 years faster than their white counterparts. Black celebrities also had a faster all-cause mortality rate using Kaplan-Meier survival function estimates and a log-rank test. However, in a Cox semiparametric regression, there was no longer a significant difference in survival times between black and white celebrities.

Researchers noted that further research is needed to examine if racial disparities in mortality are diminished at higher levels of SES among more representative populations.

Alyssa Falise and Kaitlin Grosgebauer, alumni of the M.S.P.H. program at the Miller School’s Department of Public Health Sciences, Dustin Duncan, Sc.D., associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Adam Carrico, Ph.D., associate professor at the Miller School’s Department of Public Health Sciences, also served as co-authors the study.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on January 21, 2020