Race and Ethnic Group Differences in Socioeconomic Status: Black Caribbeans, African Americans and Non-Hispanic Whites in the United States

Article excerpt

Black persons in the United States numbered approximately 39 million persons in the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), including 3.5 million persons who were not born in the United States. Approximately 1.7 million of these 3.5 million persons were born in the Caribbean or West Indies, the primary source for Black persons not born in the U.S. Tabulations of 1980 and 2000 Census data, along with the 2010 ACS data, show that the number of West Indian-born Black persons increased from about 559,000 in 1980 to 1,687,000 in 2000, to 1,729,000 in 2010 (Ruggles & associates, 2010). Less restrictive quotas, resulting from legislation since the 1965 Hart-Cellar Immigration Act, have resulted in a much faster-paced growth in the number of West Indian migrants. Constituting roughly 2% of the U. S. Black population in 1980, West Indians represented 4.5% of that population in 2010. These migrants, and their off spring in the U.S., bring varying cultures and histories, and differing resources, circumstances, and needs--all helping to produce an increasingly ethnically diverse Black population in the United States. In this paper we examine ethnic-related socio-economic heterogeneity within the Black population of the United States. We focus particularly on African Americans and Black Caribbean West Indians. Extending documentation for the idea of ethnic-related differences within the African American population advances understanding of the little recognized heterogeneity of this population, and is of practical significance for policy and programmatic formulations that recognize race-linked disparities but fail to recognize perhaps equally prevalent within-race disparities.


Sparse literature exists that is directly relevant for deriving hypotheses about expected ethnic group differences in economic well-being within the U.S. Black population. The assimilation model, from sociology's status attainment literature, represents one reasonably relevant thesis for interpreting data about expected Black ethnic-related economic heterogeneity. The assimilation model posits that over time immigrant groups become socially, culturally, and economically similar (Park & Burgess, 1921). The groups evolve to acculturate (or adopt host cultural patterns) and, eventually, structurally assimilate, the prevailing socio-cultural and economic norms in the larger society (Gordon, 1964). Assimilation, then, is a period of time [ten to fifteen years (Borjas, 1985; Model, 1995; Dodoo, 1997)] for settling in, establishing job-related networks, or simply obtaining the specialized training to take advantage of social and economic opportunities in the U.S. that facilitate joining mainstream society.

Research on this more recently labeled straight-line assimilation model (see Portes & Rumbaut, 2005) has not fully confirmed the idea. While some early research supported the reasoning (see Blau & Duncan, 1967), other work challenged the idea. Glazer & Moynihan (1963), for example, found support for the thesis only on some indicators and only for some groups (e.g., European-origin groups). They found little evidence for the assimilation of African Americans. Subsequent research, specifically that on Black persons in the U.S., concludes that Black Americans, migrant or not, have not joined the melting-pot of similarly situated ethnic groups implied by the assimilation thesis. This is particularly true regarding earnings and wealth (Hirschman, 1983; Bashi & Mcdaniel, 1997; Alba & Nee, 2003). Farley and Allen (1987) observed Black migrant earnings at 80 percent of White average earnings. Both African Americans and Black Caribbeans are less able than the average earner to convert human capital or social resources, like education or occupation, into income and other indicators of socio-economic status attainment (Neidert & Farley, 1985; Dodoo, 1997, Alba & Nee, 2003).

Research, historically, has also shown earnings (and other indicators of economic well-being) among Black migrants that, while not competitive with national (White American) norms, nevertheless, surpass the earnings of native-born African Americans. …


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