Public Release: 

Black Americans: U-M study documents differences within the community, part 2

Part 2: Discrimination and stress

University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Nearly one out of three African Americans report that they have been unfairly stopped, searched and physically abused or threatened by the police, according to findings from a new University of Michigan study.

The study of a national probability sample of more than 6,000 African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and non-Hispanic whites is the most recent to detail different levels of major discrimination, racial attitudes, and exposure to everyday stress among Black and white Americans. It also shows that African Americans are much less likely today than they were in 1980 to believe that whites want to see them get a better break in life.

Headed by U-M social psychologist James S. Jackson, the survey was funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted between February 2001 and March 2003.

"These findings show that Black Americans today continue to face substantial levels of racism and discrimination that may well turn out to have direct effects on physical and mental health," said Jackson, who is a senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

Overall, 58 percent of the people interviewed were African American, 26 percent were Black with Caribbean ancestry and 16 percent were non-Hispanic whites. About 49 percent of African Americans, 54.3 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and 53.5 percent of whites surveyed were working full time, while 11.2 percent, 10.8 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, reported that they were unemployed. African Americans had a significant disadvantage in family income, with just 16.1 percent estimated to have a family income of $60,000 or more, compared with 26.2 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and whites. Educationally, African Americans were disadvantaged as well, with 37.4 percent, compared to 51.9 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and 54.0 percent of whites, reporting that they had attended some college or earned a college degree.

Major discrimination

In addition to differences in physical and mental health, economic and social resources and coping strategies, African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and whites also differ significantly in their experience of discrimination, Jackson found. Asked if they had ever been unfairly denied a promotion, 20.5 percent of African Americans, 17.1 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and 11.8 percent of whites said that they had. Asked if they had ever been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused by the police, 28.2 percent of African Americans, 27.5 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and 17 percent of whites said they had.

Nine percent of African Americans, 10.4 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and just 3.5 percent of whites said they had ever been unfairly prevented from moving into a neighborhood because the landlord or a realtor refused to sell or rent to them. And 10.5 percent of African Americans, 7.1 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and 3.7 percent of whites said they had been unfairly denied a bank loan.

Everyday discrimination

The researchers found that the three groups had widely divergent experiences of everyday discrimination as well. "In your day-to-day life," respondents were asked, "how often have any of the following things happened to you?" About 23 percent of African Americans reported that people acted as if they were not smart a few times a month or more, compared with 19 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and only about 10 percent of whites. Almost one third of African Americans (31.8 percent) reported that a few times a month or more people acted as if they were better than they were, compared to 28.3 percent of Afro-Caribbeans and just 17.7 percent of whites.

Nearly 15 percent of African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, compared to only about 1 percent of whites said they were followed around in stores a few times a month or more.

Compared to a nationally representative sample of Black Americans Jackson and colleagues first surveyed in 1980, African Americans today were far less likely to say they thought most white people wanted to see Blacks get a better break (14.4 percent today compared to 22.6 percent in 1980).

"We cannot thank enough the thousands of American men, women and families who were randomly selected to participate in this important study and who agreed to be interviewed," Jackson said. "While their identities remain absolutely confidential, their help is invaluable in shedding light on the complexity of race relations and life experiences among different groups in this society. As we seek ways to improve the lives of all Americans, hearing their diverse voices will help in developing public policies and programs that are effective in breaking down the color line in the 21st century."

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The survey was conducted through face-to-face and some telephone interviews with an integrated national household probability sample of 3,589 African Americans, 1,006 non-Hispanic whites and 1,604 Blacks of Caribbean descent, for a total sample of 6,199 individuals age 18 and over. Interviews were conducted with a randomly selected adult in each household. The overall response rate for the study was 71.6 percent. The data reported here are preliminary but they have been weighted to account for sampling effects and cooperation and response rates. Standard errors, reflecting the complexity of the design and the large sample size, are about 1 percentage point for most of the mental disorder rates presented here. Hence, the overall margin of error is estimated to be about 2 percentage points.


Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive.

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