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The Office on Women's Health -- 200 Independence Ave., Southwest, Washington, D.C. 20201, 202-690-7650, www.4woman.gov, 1-800-994-WOMAN


July 2003

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Of the 281.4 million persons living in the United States in 2002, 143.4 million (50.9%) are female, and 29.5% of all U.S. citizens are of racial or ethnic minority groups1. Of the 143.4 million females, 42.1 million females (or 29.3%) are members of racial and ethnic minority groups2. Although these women experience many of the same health problems as White women, as a group, they are in poorer health, they use fewer health services, and they continue to suffer disproportionately from premature death, disease, and disabilities. Many also face tremendous social, economic, cultural, and other barriers to achieving optimal health.

Women of color in the United States represent many diverse populations. They encompass five major groups, which are listed in descending order of the size of their populations: African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander3. The 2000 census (newly revised) now distinguishes between race and ethnicity by collecting data on race for African American/Black, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander women, and ethnicity by counting people as either "Hispanic or Latino" or "Not Hispanic or Latino." This separation is made because people of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race. The 2000 census defines race according to the race or races with which they most closely identify - for example, either (or a combination of):

Ethnicity, on the other hand, can be either:

These are two separate concepts - race and ethnicity. For example, a person may consider her or himself Black race, but also of Latino ethnicity. Hispanic or Latino, and not Hispanic or Latino, may be of any race5.

The population known as the majority or Caucasian population is referred to as White throughout this document. Approximately, 107.7 million, or 75.1%, of American females are White, not of Hispanic origin6. For details on the census categories and methodology, please see www.census.gov.

Each group of minority women is made up of subgroups, which have diverse languages, cultures, degrees of acculturation, and histories.

Racial and Ethnic Breakdown of Women in the United States:

  chart depicting Racial and Ethnic Breakdown of Women in the United States

Because of this diversity, minority women's access to health care, their health behaviors, and their health status can vary widely between and within these groups. For example, minority women who have recently immigrated to America face more obstacles to accessing health care than other minority women in their group. The health status of women within the five major minority groups may also differ significantly, depending on income, education, and acculturation.

When minority women are influenced by, and subsequently adopt, the behaviors of a different culture-in this case, Anglo-American culture-they are considered to be more acculturated. A greater degree of acculturation has both positive and negative effects on the health risks and health outcomes of these women.

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July, 2003