John Iceland, Professor of Sociology and Demography, Examines Black-White Differences in Happiness

Racial and ethnic inequality continues to be among the most significant social issues in the United States today. This is evidenced by the attention it receives in the media, political discussions, as well as in academic work. Among these racial and ethnic divisions, the black-white color line may be the starkest. Nevertheless, by many measures, levels of black-white inequality have declined, especially when measured over a long period of time. For example, there has been some narrowing of the gap in educational attainment, poverty, life expectancy, and residential segregation and neighborhood economic conditions since the 1960s (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016a; 2016b; CDC, 2016; Logan and Stults, 2011; Firebaugh and Farrell, 2016; Iceland, 2017). Some black-white disparities, however, have not narrowed, including median family income and wealth (U.S. Census Bureau, 1986, 1990, 1994; 1995, 2001; 2013, 2016c).
Published: Oct 15, 2018

In this study we examine disparities in levels of happiness (or the “happiness gap”), a measure of well-being that many would consider to be of intrinsic importance. That is, while income is thought to be important for things that it can be used to purchase—such as food, shelter, better health care, consumer goods, and the like—happiness is an end that many people strive for in their everyday life. There are a number of reasons to believe why we might observe racial disparities in happiness. For one, blacks and whites differ in various socio-demographic characteristics that have been shown to be associated with happiness, including income, education, labor force status, and family living arrangements. In addition, blacks might differ from whites in other ways that are more difficult to capture in conventional surveys, such as exposure to racism and discrimination and stress that might accompany such exposure (Geronimus et al., 2006; Massey, 2004; Williams, 1999).  Click here to read the full paper.