Racial Differences in Cold Sensitivity Are Both a Health and Economic Issue

Raising the thermostat a degree or two is going to cost anyone more money, but a new study from researchers at the University of Connecticut suggests Black households pay more to keep their homes comfortable, in part due to increased cold sensitivity. Black people who can’t afford those couple extra degrees end up seeking medical attention more often than their White counterparts.

Researchers looked at 5,686 American households included in the federal Residential Energy Consumption Survey and determined Black households spend $120.20 more annually in total than other households on average, with the gap increasing in higher income brackets, even after considering things like insulation, number of windows, and roofing types – all thanks to disproportionate heating demand. With about 13.6 million Black households in the U.S., the researchers calculate that Black households collectively spend $1.6 billion more annually for energy consumption.

“People who are unlikely to have heat are in areas that have been chronically disinvested in and under-resourced. As a result, their health outcomes are likely going to be less or they might utilize health resources more because they are the victims of the effects of lack of heat from a health perspective,” said Jeffrey F. Hines, chief diversity officer for University of Connecticut Health and a co-author of the study.

Dr. Hines earned a bachelor’s degree and medical degree at Brown University and completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency training at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center and gynecologic oncology fellowship training at Georgetown University Medical Center.

The full study, “Racial Disparities in the Energy Burden Beyond Socio-Economic Inequality,” was published in the journal Energy Economics. It may be accessed here.

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