The View From Black America


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

This morning, NPR is starting a new series, The View from Black America. We'll be examining African-Americans' perceptions of many aspects of their lives. The series is based on a new poll being released this morning by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Joining us to talk more about the poll's findings is Gene Demby. He's the lead blogger for NPR's Code Switch Team, which covers race, ethnicity and culture.

Good morning.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Why don't you begin by describing for us who was polled, where they live and, very broadly, what they were asked about?

DEMBY: So the poll's respondents were pretty representative of the black American population, more broadly. About 60 percent lived in the South, about 60 percent lived in urban areas - obviously there's a lot of overlap there, there's urban areas in the South. And they were asked questions about their finances, their families, their health, their relationships and a bunch of other questions.

MONTAGNE: So just about anything you could think of to say how do you feel and what do you think.

DEMBY: Yeah, pretty much.

MONTAGNE: What were the most surprising answers to the poll?

DEMBY: What we were initially surprised by was the high levels of life satisfaction that hadn't really dipped since Harvard's last poll of African-Americans way back in 2002. Of course, since then, we've come in and out of a recession and the housing crisis, and the ongoing economic climate - all of which have kind of buffeted black families and black people.

But despite all of that, just like in 2002, about 9 in 10 respondents reported being satisfied with their lives. And about 6 in 10 said they were optimistic that they would achieve the American dream.

MONTAGNE: Which is interesting, because one would think that a group doing less well financially would be more pessimistic, generally speaking.

DEMBY: Right, and our partners at Harvard said that, you know, Americans in general tend to be more satisfied with their lives than the economic situation in the country as a whole. But when we dive into the numbers, there's a really stark divide there. Here's how Robert Blendon of Harvard describes what he found.

ROBERT BLENDON: Half put themselves in better financial shape and half less. And it so determines their views about how other things are going in their lives. That was a big surprise to us.

DEMBY: That break on finances was, again, right down the middle - essentially 50/50. And this was perception. This how people thought they were doing. And that perception determined the way you felt about crime, and pollution, and your city services - any number of things. Interestingly one of the only things that wasn't impacted by how you felt on this question was the entertainment options available to you - those things stayed the same.

MONTAGNE: And stayed the same, good or bad?

DEMBY: Stayed the same, bad.

MONTAGNE: Oh, all right. Well, what about more personal matters? What did you learn about family life, say, or dating prospects? Any surprises there?

DEMBY: By and large, the single respondents in prime marrying age - that's 18 to 49; people were divorced or widowed or have never married. They weren't really so pressed to find a mate. In fact, only about a third of those people were looking.

But what really jumped out to us was the gender split among those single respondents. It was men who were way more likely to say that they were looking for a long-term committed relationship. About 43 percent of men said they were looking for one, while only a quarter of women did.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's not the message we so often get from women's magazine covers and certainly relationship advice books about men and women, or even songs.

DEMBY: Yeah, it's not like Beyonce was, you know, calling for solidarity with other single fellows, right? I mean...

MONTAGNE: No, put a ring on it, boys.


DEMBY: But anecdotally, we encountered a lot of skepticism about that response and when we discussed that with our colleagues. A lot of people wondered how that could possibly be.

MONTAGNE: And what did you figure out might explain it?

DEMBY: So, here again, people's finances might have played a big part in the way they answered this question. Robert Blendon, who we just heard from a second ago, said that there were a lot of previous studies found that showed that black women were more sensitive to the financial stability of their partners, than Latinas or white women. And since black women are outpacing black men on metrics like college education and postgraduate degrees, that gap might be explained in part by black women weighing the financial pros and cons of getting paired up and finding that prospect kind of wanting.

MONTAGNE: I gather also that the poll found the overwhelming majority of African-Americans want their children to go to college. Big, big deal.

DEMBY: Yeah, nine out of 10 want their children to go to college. And almost half of those who say they do want their kids to also get advanced degrees. So that runs a little bit against a narrative that black people don't value education, 'cause when we ask them, they clearly do. And it underscores, again, the optimism that so many people reported despite what's happening in the economy.

MONTAGNE: And later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll hear more about what the poll reveals about relationships in the black community.

Gene Demby is the lead blogger for Code Switch, which again, you can find at And Gene, thanks very much for joining us.

DEMBY: Thank you for having me, Renee.

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