Posted on June 10, 2019

Black Men Are Succeeding in America

W. Bradford Wilcox et al., CNN, July 3, 2018


Despite a portrait of race relations that often highlights the negative, especially regarding black men (many Americans, according to a 2006 study by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, believed that crime, unemployment, and poverty are endemic among African-American men), the truth is that most black men will not be incarcerated, are not unemployed, and are not poor — even if black men are more likely than other men to experience these outcomes.

In fact, millions of black men are flourishing in America today.

Our new report, “Black Men Making It In America,” spotlights two pieces of particular good news about the economic well-being of black men.

First, the share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% today. Second, and more importantly, the share of black men in the middle or upper class — as measured by their family income — has risen from 38% in 1960 to 57% today. In other words, about one-in-two black men in America have reached the middle class or higher.


Tracking black men from young adulthood through their 50s using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, we identified three factors that are associated with their success: education, work, and marriage.

Black men who worked full-time, had some college education, or were married were much more likely to be members of the middle or upper class by the time they got to their 50s. We found, for instance, that the odds that black men make it to the middle or upper class are at least three times higher for those men who marry, compared to their peers who never married. Their financial well-being is higher partly because married black women contribute a higher share of income to the household than other married women.

Adding to the chances of black men achieving middle class and higher status is the US military. We found that serving in the military was associated with a 72% increase in the odds that black men made it into the middle class or higher as 50-something men.


Moreover, the US military is also known for its marriage-oriented culture, and we found that black men who served in the military as young men were much more likely to be married later, at ages 29-37, compared to their peers who did not serve. This marriage advantage played a role in boosting their later odds of success.

{snip} The odds of black men in their 50s making it to the middle class were about 60% lower for those who were charged with a crime as a young adult.

Given that racial segregation, poverty, and bias affect the odds that young black males get caught up in the criminal justice system, systemic racism limits the economic fortunes of black men. What’s more: right now, only a small minority of black men graduate from college: 17%. {snip}