Northwestern University Professor’s Research Finds Middle-Class Blacks Face a Greater Risk of Downward Mobility Than Middle-Class Whites

A study by Mary Pattillo, professor of sociology at Northwestern University, finds that blacks in the middle class are two and a half times as likely as middle-class whites to have a sibling in a lower socioeconomic bracket. Blacks in the middle class are also four times as likely as middle-class whites to have been poor earlier in life.

The study, coauthored by Colleen Heflin of the University of Kentucky, is published in the December issue of the journal Social Science Research.

The significance of the data, according to Pattillo, is that life in the middle class is fragile for many African Americans. They often do not have other family members to help them out in times of need or emergency. In addition, they are much more likely than middle-class whites to have family members from a lower socioeconomic position ask them for financial assistance. Professor Pattillo says that the data explains why there is a higher risk of downward mobility for African Americans than is the case for whites.