Perceptions of Discriminatory Experiences in Health Care and Other Settings

Patient in bed surrounded by doctors and family

Black and Hispanic adults are more likely than White adults to report worse treatment in health, social services, and other settings.



The Issue

Researchers say unfair treatment or judgment based on race or ethnicity occurs across multiple settings and results in disruptions and delays to medical care and needed services, adverse health consequences, and greater hardship in meeting basic needs.

Using data from Urban Institute’s December 2020 Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey (WBNS), the research—conducted by the Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—examines how some adults, disproportionately Black and Latinx, reported being treated or judged unfairly in five settings in 2020, including at a doctor’s office; when applying for social services; at work or applying for jobs; interacting with police; and when trying to rent a room or buy a house.

Key Findings

Drawing on data from a nationally representative survey regarding perceived experiences, researchers found:

  • About 10% of adults reported that they experienced unfair treatment or judgment because of their race or ethnicity in one or more settings. Racial and ethnic differences in unfair treatment or judgement were also stark among adults with low incomes.

  • Adults most frequently reported unfair treatment or judgment at work or when applying for jobs (5.7%), when interacting with police or law enforcement (4.2%); visiting a doctor’s office (3.2%); applying for social services or public assistance (2.9%); and renting or buying a room or house (2.2%).

  • Among the 3.2% of nonelderly adults who reported feeling treated or judged unfairly by health care providers because of their race or ethnicity, nearly all (94.5%) reported negative consequences. Over three-quarters (75.9%) faced disruptions in care, including delaying or forgoing needed care and changing providers, and over one-third (36.3%) took action to address the treatment they received, including filing a complaint and speaking to their provider.

  • Among the 2.9% of nonelderly adults who reported feeling treated or judged unfairly when applying for social services, more than 40% reported not getting and 27% delayed getting the public assistance or social services they needed.


Racial and ethnic disparities in treatment and experiences when seeking health care, applying for assistance, or other areas of daily life are rooted in long-standing structural racism, implicit bias, and overt discrimination. Leaders at all types of organizations need to embrace and expand education and training about racism and bias, diversify the workforce, and share how all of us can respond to our neighbors in more inclusive ways.

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.

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