Americans Are Unaware of the Vast Racial Disparities in Economic Well-Being

A study conducted by researchers at Yale University finds that Americans are unaware of the vast economic differences that exist between White Americans and African Americans. Family income gaps and household wealth gaps between Blacks and Whites remain huge and have been relatively unchanged for a half century.

But this study found that White and Black Americans from across the income spectrum, reported their perceptions of the degree of racial equality that currently exists and existed in the past on five economic indicators: hourly wages of college graduates, hourly wages of high school graduates, household wealth, household income, and employer-provided health benefits. The researchers weighed participants’ estimates against federal data and found that average estimates of current levels of racial economic equality exceeded reality by roughly 25 percent.

Jennifer A. Richeson, the Philip R. Allen Professor of Psychology at Yale and a co-author of the study, stated that our findings suggest that Americans tend to be too optimistic about the scope of racial progress in the United States, specifically in the domain of economic outcomes. Unfounded optimism of this sort is likely to hinder efforts to reduce racial economic inequality, or even discover its causes. People will not attempt to solve problems that they are either unaware of or believe do not exist.”

Professor Richeson joined the Yale University faculty in 2016 after teaching at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Dr. Richeson is a graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University.

The full study, “Americans Misperceive Racial Economic Equality,” was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be downloaded by clicking here.

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