According to the minorities’ diminished returns (MDR) theory, socioeconomic status (SES) indicators such as education attainment have smaller protective effects on health risk behaviors for racial and ethnic minority groups in comparison to the ‘dominant’ social group. However, most studies of MDR theory have been on comparison of Blacks versus Whites. Much less is known about diminished returns of SES in ethnic subpopulations (i.e., Hispanics versus non-Hispanic Whites). To test whether MDR also holds for the social patterning of problematic alcohol use among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Whites, this study investigated ethnic variations in the association between education attainment and alcohol binge drinking frequency in a population-based sample of adults. Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey, 2001, included 907 non-Hispanic White and 2117 Hispanic White adults (≥18 years old). Hispanic ethnicity (moderator), education attainment (independent variable), alcohol binge drinking frequency (dependent variable), and gender, age, immigration status, employment status, self-rated health, and history of depression (confounders) were included in four linear regressions. In the overall sample that included both non-Hispanic and Hispanic Whites, higher education attainment was correlated with lower alcohol binge drinking frequency (b = −0.05, 95% CI = −0.09–−0.02), net of covariates. A significant interaction was found between ethnicity and education attainment (b = 0.09; 95% CI = 0.00–0.17), indicating a stronger protective effect of high education attainment against alcohol binge drinking frequency for non-Hispanic than Hispanic Whites. In ethnic-stratified models, higher level of education attainment was associated with lower binge drinking frequency among non-Hispanic Whites (b = −0.11, 95% CI = −0.19–−0.03), but not among Hispanic Whites (b = −0.01, 95% CI = −0.04–0.03). While, overall, higher education attainment is associated with lower frequency of alcohol binge drinking, this protective effect of education attainment seems to be weaker among Hispanic Whites compared to non-Hispanic Whites, a phenomenon consistent with the MDR theory.
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