Understanding high-risk behavior among non-dominant minorities: A social resistance framework

Roni Factor*, Ichiro Kawachi, David R. Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Across different societies, non-dominant minority groups, compared to the dominant group, often exhibit higher rates of involvement in high-risk behaviors, such as smoking, drug and alcohol use, sexual risk behaviors, overeating, and unsafe driving habits. In turn, these behaviors have a well-documented impact on chronic disease, morbidity, and mortality. Previous studies have emphasized macro-structural or micro-agentic explanations for this phenomenon. Such explanations suffer from mirror-image shortcomings, such as, by emphasizing structural barriers, macro-level explanations leave out individual agency (" the over-socialized conception of the individual" ), while micro-level theories give short shrift to structural constraints that prevent individuals from engaging in health-promoting behaviors (" the under-socialized conception of the individual" ). Moreover, most current theories regard individuals as passive players who are influenced by the social environment or by psychological problems, or who make " bad" choices. The current paper develops an integrated theoretical framework that incorporates structural inequalities while leaving intact the role of individual agency. According to the social resistance framework, power relations in society encourage members of non-dominant minority groups to actively engage in everyday resistance practices that include various unhealthy behaviors. The paper develops propositions from which testable hypotheses can be generated, and discusses the implications and contributions of the social resistance framework.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1292-1301
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was conducted with the support of the Takemi Program in International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.


  • Acting white
  • Ethnicity
  • Health behaviors theory
  • Minorities
  • Non-dominant groups
  • Race
  • Resistance
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Unhealthy behaviors


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