Race, class and the quality of life of black people
Thomas, Melvin E.
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Wilson (1980) argued that social class has superseded race as the most important determinant of life chances for black Americans. His statements have sparked a heated debate in the sociology of race relations. This dissertation is an empirical test of the “declining significance of race" thesis in relation to the quality of life of black Americans. It assumes that "life chances” include not only economic criteria but also the possibility of attaining a happy, satisfying, and healthy life. Two perspectives on the relationship between race and well-being were distinguished. The “class" perspective identifies the source of the problems blacks face as increasingly a class phenomena rather than one of race. The “race” perspective sees race as increasingly the source of the problems blacks face. These two perspectives were tested using data from three different sources: the NORC General Social Survey; the Quality of American Life, 1971 and 1978 (Campbell and Converse, 1971, 1978); and Americans View Their Mental Health, 1957 and 1976: Selected Variables (Veroff, Douvan and Kulka, 1978). The effects of race and class (and other demographic variables) were compared across the years of each survey on selected measures of subjective well-being. The results revealed a persistent race effect on all of the quality of life measures except for the scales measuring psychiatric symptoms. Most of the race effects persisted even when controlling for social class, sex, marital status, and age across all the years examined. These results support the "race" perspective that “being black" is detrimental to the psychological well-being of blacks regardless of their social class status. There was, however, no discernible trend of race increasing or declining in significance--only its continuing significance.
- Doctoral Dissertations