Saturday, March 08, 2008

Does a strong ethnic identity make one happier? Racial activists argue that a person of color needs to develop a deep connection to his people in order to have a sense of rootedness, self-esteem, and even mental health. A belief in the importance of group identification is seen in this year's primaries. I keep hearing journalists say how women and blacks are finally really swept up in a presidential election, as if having one's own run for office is the only thing meaningful about politics.

I've never really bought the idea--for minorities, women, or white men for that matter--but it could be true, so let's look at the data. Using General Social Survey data, I calculated the percent of people who report being very happy:

Percent who are very happy

English/Welsh 36.9
German 33.5
Filipino 32.3
Jewish 32.1

All Americans 31.9

American Indian 30.9
Chinese 30.6
East Indian 30.1
Mexican 27.5
Japanese 26.0
Puerto Rican 23.5
Arabic 22.9
Black 22.2
West Indian 18.2

American minority groups are the most group conscious, and yet they are the least happy. By contrast, people of English and German ancestry identify with with their ethnic groups less than anyone, but they are at the top of the happiness list. A skeptic might argue that their unhappiness is due to poverty, but Chinese, East Indians, and Japanese are wealthy groups but still have below-average numbers.

By the way, all Americans from NW Europe are above average: this mirrors quite closely the patterns observed globally.


  1. I might have guessed that those at the top of the list lived surrounded by others who look like themselves, hence experience less diversity, and hence are less alienated along the lines determined by Robert Putnam.

    But the Filipinos seem to contradict this.

    And the Jews to some degree, although they tend to live among other Europeans.

  2. Regarding a different thread, I found the implied IQs you'd calculated for various different white protestant religious groups to be extremely interesting.

    Have you already done a similar calculation for different racial/ethnic/national origin groups? Or whites in different states or regions of the country?

  3. I think the race theorists are probably reversing the causation. People may take pride in their ethnic identity when they have little else to be happy about. So overall happiness leads to a lack of concern with ethnic identity.


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