Friday, March 26, 2010

Race, social class, and negative emotionality

A stress reaction score was calculated for white MIDUS Study participants based on the following items: is tense and nervous; is sensitive, feels vulnerable; is prone to worry and feel anxious; is irritable and easily upset; has changing moods; can feel miserable without reason; is troubled by feelings of guilt and unworthiness.

I calculated the means by sex and social class (Sample size = 3,988):

Mean stress reaction score

Low 6.61*
Middle 6.18
High 5.98

Low 6.49
Middle 6.09
High 6.06

*significantly higher than high-status men

Low-status men are significantly more neurotic than high-status men. The gap between the two groups is three-tenths of a standard deviation (sd)--a moderate difference. The mean for low-status men is so high, it surpasses that of all female groups. There is a smaller gap between low-status and high-status women which doesn't quite reach statistical significance.

Now let's turn to stress reaction differences by race and sex:

White 6.22
Black 6.03
Amerindian 6.04
Asian 6.57

White 6.14
Black 6.73*
Amerindian 6.59
Asian 7.12

* significantly higher than white women

Of the men, the Asian score stands out (although it is not significantly higher than white men--the Asian sample is only seven guys).  All minority female groups are higher than white women, although blacks are the only group to differ significantly. The black-white female gap is one-quarter of an sd--a small difference.  

This analysis of Add Health data also indicated higher negative emotionality among non-whites. (It also showed a gender gap for whites as well as for non-whites).

According to this study, heritability for negative emotionality is 48 percent, but I can easily see a nurturist explaining the gender/class/race pattern I just reported entirely in terms of oppression. It makes one an emotional wreck.


  1. Anonymous5:43 AM

    " All minority female groups are higher than white women, although blacks are the only group to differ significantly. The black-white female gap is one-quarter of an sd--a small difference. "

    Isn't the white female/asian female gap even higher than the white female/black gap? Or am I misreading something here?

  2. "Significant" here means "we're confident the difference is real and not an accident of the sample."
    There are few Asian women, making the estimate for them less reliable.

  3. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Is negative emotionality the same as neuroticism on personality tests?

    I saw a five trait personality test with these categories:



    Openness to Experience



  4. Yes, negative emotionality and neuroticism are basically the same supertrait.


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