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We aim to discuss current insights into our understanding of the mechanisms by which socioeconomic status influences the prevalence and severity of asthma in ethnic minorities. In addition, we review potential risk factors for ethnic disparities in asthma that are not mediated by socioeconomic status.Exposures and factors correlated with ethnicity through socioeconomic status (e.g. indoor and outdoor air quality, smoke exposure, and access to healthcare) are likely to explain a significant proportion of the observed ethnic differences in asthma morbidity. However, other factors correlated with ethnicity (e.g. genetic variation) can impact ethnic disparities in asthma independently of and/or interacting with socioeconomic status-related factors.Socioeconomic status is a rough marker of a variety of environmental/behavioral exposures and a very important determinant of differences in asthma prevalence and severity among ethnic minorities in the United States. However, socioeconomic status is unlikely to be the sole explanation for ethnic disparities in asthma, which may also be due to differences in genetic variation and gene-by-environment interactions among ethnic groups.