Race, Education Attainment, and Happiness in the United States

Document Type: Original Article

Author

Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA/Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA/Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

Abstract

Background and aims: As suggests by the Minorities’ Diminished Returns (MDR) theory, education
attainment and other socioeconomic status (SES) indicators have a smaller impact on the health and
well-being of non-White than White Americans. To test whether MDR also applies to happiness, in the
present study, Blacks and Whites were compared in terms of the effect of education attainment on the
level of happiness among American adults.
Methods: General Social Survey (1972-2016) is a series of national surveys that are performed in the
United States. The current analysis included 54 785 adults (46 724 Whites and 8061 Blacks). The years
of schooling (i.e., education attainment) and happiness were the main independent variable and the
main dependent variable of interest, respectively. In addition, other parameters such as gender, age,
employment status, marital status, and the year of the survey were the covariates and race was the
focal effect modifier. Finally, the logistic regression model was used to analyze the data.
Results: Based on the results, high education attainment was associated with higher odds of happiness
in the pooled sample. Further, a significant interaction was found between race and education
attainment on the odds of happiness, showing a larger gain for Whites compared to Blacks. Racespecific
models also confirmed this finding (i.e., a larger magnitude of the effect of education for
Whites compared to Blacks).
Conclusion: Overall, the MDR theory also applies to the effect of education attainment on happiness.
Blacks’ disadvantage in comparison to the Whites in gaining happiness from their education may be
due to the structural, institutional, and interpersonal racism and discrimination in the US. Therefore,
there is a need for economic and public policies that can minimize the Blacks’ diminished returns of
education attainment and other SES resources.

Keywords

Main Subjects


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