African Americans

Statistics related to the quality of life for African-Americans are dismal indeed. Teenage pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, and infant mortality are more common, life expectancy at birth is lower, and the rates of obesity, hypertension, and certain other diseases are higher than average. Significantly more blacks than whites die of HIV infection and homicide or other legal intervention. On the economic front, the rates of unemployment and poverty are higher, and incomes are lower than average. Affecting socioeconomic status is the fact that the percentage of blacks who graduate from high school is significantly lower than that for whites. Quality of life, as indicated by a greater rate of substandard housing, a larger percentage of single-parent families, a lower marriage rate, and a higher divorce rate, is poorer for blacks than for whites. Ladner (1971) attributes some of these problems to the long period of slavery and segregation to which blacks were subjected in the United States. Because black slaves were not permitted to marry, a family system that deemphasized legal marriage, tolerated premarital intercourse, and accepted illegitimate children developed. The contemporary African-American community, with its emphasis on the extended family, strong kinship bonds, and intrafamilial cooperation, also originated in the historical experiences of African-Americans—in Africa and, subsequently, in America.

Despite the seemingly bleak picture painted by the statistics summarized in the previous paragraph, African-Americans have made substantial progress in education, employment, and acceptance by the dominant American society during the past few decades. These statistics do not reveal the fact that a sizable percentage of African-Americans are middle-class professionals and business persons whose economic situation is on a par with that of middle-class American whites. The family structures of middle-class black Americans tend to resemble those of whites (Markides, Liang, & Jackson, 1990). The living conditions of older blacks have also improved in recent years, due in large measure to Social Security increases and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and have helped to free them from the degrading stereotype of having to depend on welfare for survival. Being old in the black community also has the advantage of being associated with greater social respect and higher self-esteem than it typically is in the white community.

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