Conducting an investigative analysis to understand the wealth-health gap in specific communities requires more than just basic income and health data. It is necessary to consider the various facets of wealth as well as the rates of serious illness and death in specific populations.

Across America, a “wealth gap” has become increasingly insurmountable for two specific groups — women and racial/ethnic minorities.

“Wealth” is generally described by what a family owns, minus what it owes. Studies conducted by health care, financial and policy experts have shown that the wealth gap between groups in the United States will continue to grow unless purposeful steps are taken to stop it.

The research provides several key variables you can find in Metopio’s curated data library to help assess the gap in your community.


There are “pervasive and substantial” wealth disparities across racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., according to a white paper by the New York City (NYC) Department of Health. “The most recent data estimates that the average White family holds nearly eight times the wealth of the average Black family and more than five times the wealth of the average Hispanic family.”

The cause of this wealth gap lies in the systemic “policies, programs and institutional practices that were designed to facilitate wealth building by White people while creating barriers to wealth accumulation or stripping wealth from people of color,” said Kilolo Kijakazi, MSW, Ph.D., a fellow at the Urban Institute, during a United States House of Representatives Financial Services Committee hearing on wealth gaps. “The racial wealth gap is not the result of inadvisable financial choices by people of color.”

Studies from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that Black workers experience higher unemployment and receive lower wages than white workers at every educational level. This wealth gap is especially wide for Black women, who are paid lower wages than white and Black men as well as white women at every education level.


For all races, gender wage differences are prevalent. Research has shown that “a motherhood penalty for women and a marriage premium for men” exists, according to Kijakazi’s testimony, and that likely the difference in women’s earnings and employment stems from discrimination against mothers.

Differences in education levels are often seen as the reason for gender disparities in unemployment. But even at advanced education levels, the unemployment rate for Black women is substantially greater than the rate for white men, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.


While some progress has been made on closing the wealth gap for diverse communities in recent years, a great deal of work still remains.

According to an analysis done by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the median wealth for Black families, Hispanic families and families with a high school degree had notable increases between 2016 and 2019, ranging between a 25% to 60% rise. Groups that historically have higher wealth, like white families and families with at least a bachelor’s degree, gained only 4% to 5% more wealth in the same time period.

But since these families had higher wealth to begin with, small percentage gains still translated into large increases in terms of dollars. Because of this, wide wealth gaps remained, and wealth levels among Black, Hispanic and less educated families remained low — making it “difficult for these groups to fully participate in the economy and have financial stability,” the report said.



The impact of wealth disparity goes far beyond one’s ability to weather financial storms or pay for necessities. Studies have shown that households with more wealth experience fewer chronic diseases and have a greater life expectancy, according to the NYC Department of Health.

While wealth is an integral driver of health outcomes, epidemiologists’ and health systems’ ability to understand the complex relationships between race, wealth and health can be limited due to geographic and demographic limitations in data.

A panel of experts assembled by the NYC Department of Health determined that targeted data analysis is a key part of addressing these gaps. Their three main recommendations: implement bold public policy, increase community ownership of health care delivery, and improve measurement and data collection.

Having this data will allow experts to understand the extent of inequitable disparities, their causes, and how to address them. The racial wealth gap can only be closed, Kijakazi said, through “bold, equitable solutions that focus on policy change centered on better data collection and use.”


“To understand and effectively address the racial wealth gap, we need federally funded data collection efforts with sample sizes that can be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and, ideally, country of origin and tribal affiliation,” Kijakazi says.

Even though there isn’t a perfect federal dataset that meets these parameters, we can increase our understanding of this gap by leveraging related topics and sources.  These proxies can help public health epidemiologists and health system administrators easily pinpoint what is driving wealth gaps and their corresponding public health crises in individual communities. All of these insights are available on Metopio through our curated data library.


The IRS publishes aggregated data on all individual tax returns filed annually. While these data do not represent the full U.S. population — many individuals are not required to file an income tax return — they can give insight into wealth disparities between zip codes.

For example, the American Community Survey publishes data on median household income, but it is capped at $250,000. Using the IRS-published adjusted gross income (AGI), which goes much higher, we can see the disparities. In 60614, an affluent zip code in north Chicago, the AGI is $304,700. Two miles west in 60639, it drops to $38,191, according to a Metopio analysis.


Other line items on tax returns provide equally important context for wealth, including earned income tax credits, real estate taxes paid, mortgage interest paid, average capital gains and unemployment compensation.

Home values and home ownership are other topics that should be considered when assessing wealth gaps. Zillow provides a public dataset called the “Home Value Index,” which measures monthly changes in property “Zestimates” and captures both the level and appreciation of home values across a wide variety of geographies and housing types. Mortgage rates paid and the percentage of homeowners in a community can also be added to your Metopio analysis to create context.   Explore some of these sample topics here.


A simple illustration of the wealth-health gap between two communities can be seen by comparing the diabetes rate of the 60614 zip code, which is predominantly white, and the 60639 zip code, which is predominantly Hispanic.

For Illinois as a whole, the diabetes diagnosis rate is 9.4%. In the wealthy 60614 zip code, the diabetes diagnosis rate is much lower at 4%. But that rate skyrockets in the 60639 zip code to 11.7%.


Metopio is here to help address these knowledge gaps so you can help address pressing public health issues. Are you interested in starting your own analysis or speaking with one of our data scientists? Get started here.