Nav: Home

Misperceptions about racial economic progress are pervasive

September 16, 2019

The vast majority of Americans underestimate the magnitude of economic inequality between Whites and racial minorities, particularly Black and Latinx people, new data indicate.

In a national survey of more than 1,000 adults from racial and socioeconomic backgrounds largely representative of the demographics of the United States, Yale University psychological scientists have found that people overestimate the current state of White-Black wealth equality by 80 percentage points above U.S. government data on actual household wealth.

The results appear in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The respondents also estimated the wealth gap between White and Latinx families to be greater than the Black-White gap, when the opposite is true, the researchers led by Michael W. Kraus and Jennifer A. Richeson report. Participants' views on the wealth disparity between Asian Americans and Whites were slightly less misguided, but still below the actual figures, they write.

"Americans tend to believe that this is a country that is naturally and automatically ascending toward justice," Kraus says. "This latest work has been about just how deeply these narratives lead us astray from the stark reality of racial economic inequality in our country."

The research expands on a previous examination on the perceptions of racial economic equality held by Black and White Americans that Kraus, Richeson and graduate student Julian Rucker conducted in 2017. On average, the participants in that work overestimated the current state of Black-White economic equality (based on multiple markers of economic well-being) by about 25 percent over federal income statistics.

In the latest work, the team--including postdoctoral scholar Ivuoma Onyeador and graduate student Natalie Daumeyer--surveyed a broadened spectrum of U.S. residents and added questions related to perceptions of Asian American and Latinx family wealth. They also asked participants to estimate Black-White wealth disparities at 12 points in time between 1963 and 2016. Respondents underestimated this wealth disparity at all time points, with participants approximating the gap at about 40 percentage points lower than its actual size in 1963 and 80 points lower in 2016. Overall, more than 97% of participants overestimated Black-White wealth equality.

The researchers also examined perceptions of Black-White wealth equality at multiple levels of family education and income. They predicted that participants would believe that Black families with high income and advanced education were most likely to have the same amount of wealth as their White counterparts. And indeed, they found that participants underestimated the wealth gap between White and Black families at every level of education and income. The results reveal a desire to find some set of perhaps deserving Black families that have achieved economic parity with their White counterparts, which, in turn, maintains the belief that society is indeed fair and just.

The misperceptions of racial economic inequality are caused by many different factors, the Yale researchers say. The inflated estimates of the Latinx-White wealth gap, for instance, could stem from cognitive factors such as the recent national focus on refugees attempting to cross the U.S. southern border and widespread ignorance of Latinx contributions to the country. Similarly, the more accurate perceptions of the Asian-White wealth gap could arise from the fact that Asian Americans have closer wealth parity with Whites than do the other two racial groups, but may also reflect stereotypes about Asian Americans as high-achieving. Kraus, Richeson and undergraduate researcher, Entung Kuo found in a recent study that exposure to narratives that highlight these "model minority" stereotypes of Asian Americans drove people to underestimate wealth differences between Whites and people of Asian heritage in the United States.

In their report, the authors discuss some of the psychological processes and structural forces that may produce these misperceptions about racial progress.

"Americans need to wake up to the notion that race is at the center of economic inequality in the United States," Kraus says. "And if we really value the American Dream, we need to commit to supporting reparative economic action that will make that dream more of a reality for more Americans and certainly for more Americans from racial minority backgrounds."

Richeson says that the scientists have a number of plans for expanding on their research. They intend to examine how people's perceptions of economic equity are influenced by characteristics of people's neighborhoods, including how racially and economically segregated they are and how disseminating information about the racial wealth gap affects support for new policies aimed at correcting race-based economic disparities.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Education Articles:

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.
The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.
Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.
How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.
Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.
Education interventions improve economic rationality
This study proves that education can be leveraged as a tool to help enhance an individual's economic decision-making quality, or economic rationality.
Protestantism still matters when it comes to education, study shows
A new academic study, the first of its kind, reveals a significant and positive historical legacy of Protestant religion in education around the world.
Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.
How does limited education limit young people?
A recent nationally-representative US Department of Education study found that 28 percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders had not yet enrolled in a trade school or college by February 2016 -- roughly six-and-a-half years later.
'Depression education' effective for some teens
In an assessment of their 'depression literacy' program, which has already been taught to tens of thousands, Johns Hopkins researchers say the Adolescent Depression Awareness Program (ADAP) achieved its intended effect of encouraging many teenagers to speak up and seek adult help for themselves or a peer.
More Education News and Education Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at