MPIDR Working Paper

Intersectionality and opportunity-weighted cumulative (dis)advantage

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2023-040, 57 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (September 2023)
Open Access


Grounded in theories of intersectionality and cumulative (dis)advantage, we develop complementary formalizations of (dis)advantage: one that captures the traditional practice of studying Cumulative (Dis)Advantage (CDA) that reflects inequalities in outcomes and Opportunity-Weighted CDA that additionally accounts for inequalities in opportunities. We study the properties of these (dis)advantages and show that traditional cumulative disadvantage and advantage are mutually exclusive; this is not true of opportunity-weighted CDA. Using these formalizations, we analyze the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2018) to assess how total life expectancy at age 50 is associated with the accumulation of racial/ethnic, nativity, gender, early-life, and educational (dis)advantages. We find that the benefits and penalties of one (dis)advantage depend on positionality on the other axes of inequality. Whites ubiquitously experience Cumulative Advantage: they benefit more from having higher education than Blacks and Latinx. However, when accounting for racial/ethnic inequities in educational attainment, results predominantly show Opportunity-Weighted Cumulative Disadvantage for Blacks and Latinx. Finally, we present a specification curve analysis that includes early-life adversity. Our contributions include the formalization (a mathematical grounding) of two CDA approaches – traditional and one that incorporates inequities in opportunities – and empirical results that comprehensively document the intersecting axes of stratification that perpetuate health inequities.

Keywords: USA, life expectancy, social demography, social stratification
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.