Tuesday, July 06, 2010

High-status blacks more violent than low-status whites?

The high rate of violence by blacks is commonly explained with the fact that African Americans are poorer than whites. Ordinary folks don't think about it any more deeply than that. They never ask, for example, why blacks are poor. They never ask, is there some common denominator that makes them poor and violent.  Or they never ask, why a lack of resources would make a person assault somebody. A quick glance at the statistics reveals that people rarely kill each other for money. 

This superficial level of thinking is found even among professional sociologists and criminologists. I once told a sociologist that, according to Marvin Wolfgang's famous study of Philadelphia crime, middle-income blacks were more violent than low-income whites. The guy was completely discombobulated. He asked me, how do we explain it and said sarcastically, "Is it the amount of melanin in the skin?" I told him that I didn't really know (I didn't at the time).    

The ironic fact is that everyone thinks poverty explains black violence, but there are few studies that actually assess the hypothesis.  In 2010, if there is a big hole in the research literature, it is not an accident.

We can take a step to plug that hole by looking at Add Health data. Based on Wolfgang's study, I'm confident enough to predict that the violence of high-status blacks is at least as high as that of low-status whites.  There is no perfect measure of social class, but I will use mother's education. "Low-status" is having a mother who, at most, finished high school or got her GED. "High status" is some college all the way up to grad school. Most of the black sample has mothers with at least a 4-year degree. (By the way, this analysis showed me that ADD Health selected for high-end blacks, so the overall black-white difference in violence in the real world is surely larger than that indicated by Add Health data). Here are the percentages of teenagers who admit to committing the act at least once in the past year:

The percentages are similar.  Where we see a significant difference, high-status blacks are more violent: they are more likely to have pulled a gun or a knife on someone. That is, they are more likely to do this than lower-class whites--you know, "white trash" teenagers.

These findings parallel those seen in IQ studies: poor whites score as well or better than privileged blacks.

I thought social class was everything; so vital, an entire discipline--sociology--was built around it. We've been hoodwinked by ideologues masquerading as scientists.


  1. Thanks. I've always wondered about this. Sounds about right. Keep in mind, the lower half of the American white population is not that badly behaved, at least not when compared to, say, the lower half of the British white population. So, the black figures aren't that bad.

    I think social class is real important but the key is to think about it prospectively rather than in hindsight. It's about what kind of people your children are going to marry. When looked at from that perspective, it becomes extremely fascinating to the middle-aged mind.

  2. Anonymous3:31 AM

    I always figured that black women (and perhaps other women) who went to college were more likely to pursue a short-term mating strategy. Hence the need to have an education so that they can support themselves as single-mothers, which would then result in them pursuing mating opportunities with violent/aggressive males resulting in violent/aggressive children.

    If this unverified assumption of mine is correct, then it might be better to look at the children of black fathers, who I would also presume would be more likely to pursue a long-term mating strategy due to the value that an education has for a man pursuing such a strategy.

  3. Anonymous8:24 AM

    There is still a big hole in this theory. High status blacks still tend to associate closely with the low status blacks, if only for family reasons. Mom is likely to be the first generation to go on to college. They are far more likely to *need* to fight or pull a gun on someone, if only to protect themselves, than whites from a comparable background, who have more generations from associations with poverty.

  4. Nanonymous7:51 PM

    Where are the data points for low status blacks and high status whites? At least in theory it is possible that all four groups are similar to each other. To make a meaningful conclusion, you need these data. I'd be shocked if there are no status-dependent differences but still.

  5. There is still a big hole in this theory. High status blacks still tend to associate closely with the low status blacks,

    It would be interesting to look at juvenile crime rates in high income black suburbs of Atlanta and DC and compare those with juvenile crime rates in low income white suburbs of the same places (do the latter exist?)

  6. Anonymous4:34 PM

    How about controlling for urban vs. rural settings?


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