The Demographics of Hope

A new study looks the demographics of hopefulness in the United States. As the author explains,

Hope is an important channel driving people’s willingness to invest in the future. My early research on well-being work highlights its particular importance for people with less means, for whom making such investments requires a greater sacrifice of current consumption than it does for the rich (Graham et al. 2004). In addition to widening gaps in opportunity, the prosperity gap in the US has led to rising inequality in beliefs, hopes, and aspirations, with those who are left behind economically the least hopeful and the least likely to invest in their futures.

The author points to multiple markers that divide America,

ranging from education levels and job quality to marriage and incarceration rates to life expectancy. Indeed, the starkest evidence of this lack of faith in the future is the marked increase in premature deaths – driven largely but not only by an increase in preventable deaths (such as via suicide and drug over-dose) among middle-aged uneducated whites, as described by Case and Deaton (2017). There are even differences in the words that these two Americas use. Common words in wealthy America reflect investments in health, knowledge acquisition, and the future: iPads and Baby Bjorns, foam rollers and baby joggers, cameras, and exotic travel destinations such as Machu Picchu. The words that are common in poor America – such as hell, stress, diabetes, guns, video games, and fad diets – reflect short-time horizons, struggles, and lack of hope (Leonhardt 2015).

Surprisingly, “poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites. Poor blacks are three times as likely to be a point higher on the ten-point optimism scale than are poor whites, while Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely than poor whites. Poor blacks are also half as likely to experience stress – a significant marker of ill-being – on a daily basis as are poor whites, while poor Hispanics are about two-thirds as likely.”

Figure 1: Odds of being on a higher level of optimism, by race group (relative to white), within each income group
Figure 2: Odds of experiencing stress, by race group (relative to white), within each income group

There are various reasons for this:

  • “One important one is that, despite substantial obstacles, minorities have been gradually narrowing the gaps with whites, at least in terms of education and life expectancy gaps. Minorities are also more likely to compare themselves with parents who were worse off than they are, while blue-collar whites are more likely to compare themselves with parents who were better off – a trend that has been increasing over the past decade, as found by Cherlin (2016).”
  • “Psychological research points to higher levels of resilience among minorities compared to whites. Assari et al. (2016) find that blacks and Hispanics are much less likely to report depression and/or commit suicide in the face of negative shocks than are whites.”
  • “More generally, urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity. In recent research, Sergio Pinto and I find that the same places have healthier behaviours – such as more people who exercise and less who smoke (Graham and Pinto 2017).”

The study is very interesting to say the least. Check it out.