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date: 23 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

How does being discriminated against affect one’s health, and through what mechanisms? Most research has focused on two causal pathways, highlighting how discrimination increases psychological stress and exposure to neighborhood hazards. This chapter advances an alternative, complementary set of mechanisms through which stigma and discrimination may shape health. Grounded in evolutionary biology’s life history theory, the framework holds that discrimination alters aspects of the physical and social ecologies in which people live (e.g., sex ratio, unpredictable extrinsic causes of mortality). These discriminating ecologies pull for specific behaviors and physiological responses (e.g., risk-taking, sexual activity, offspring care, fat storage) that are active, strategic, and rational given the threats and opportunities afforded by these ecologies but that also have downstream implications for health. This framework generates a wide range of nuanced insights and unique hypotheses about the discrimination-health relationship, and suggests specific approaches to intervention while pointing to complex ethical issues.

Keywords: life history theory, evolutionary psychology, prejudices, discrimination, structural stigma, social policies, health, sexual orientation, mental illness, ethnic minorities, race

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