Racial Identity and Psychological Well-Being Among African Americans and Whites

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge A
Oral Presentation
K Jill KIECOLT , Sociology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Michael HUGHES , Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Research over the past few decades finds that African Americans have persistently poorer psychological well-being than whites. African Americans score lower than whites on happiness, life satisfaction, and trust in people. In contrast, African Americans’ mental health (e.g., as measured by depressive symptoms) is comparable to or better than whites’, despite African Americans’ lower socioeconomic status and greater exposure to stressors. Scholars have speculated that a strong, positive racial identity may help explain African Americans’ good mental health, based on findings that the two are associated. If so, it means that racial identity may be stronger or more beneficial for African Americans. Together these findings raise two important questions. First, does racial identity contribute to African Americans’ psychological well-being? Second, is the association between racial identity and psychological well-being stronger for African Americans than whites? We addressed these questions using data on African Americans and whites from the 1996-2012 General Social Surveys. We investigated how racial identity is related to psychological well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, and trust in people). Based on social identity theory, we examined two identity dimensions—identification with (closeness to) one’s racial group and ingroup biases (relative evaluations of ingroup versus outgroup members). On average, African Americans identified with their group more than whites did, but whites evaluated their group as relatively more intelligent and hardworking than African Americans did. Stronger racial identification was associated with greater happiness, life satisfaction, and trust in people, equally for African Americans and whites. Contrary to prediction by social identity theory, favorable ingroup evaluations at an outgroup’s expense were sometimes associated with poorer psychological well-being. These effects of ingroup bias did not differ by race. We discuss what the findings imply for social identity theory and for how racial inequality influences psychological well-being.