National Institute on Aging

New Study Examines How to Eliminate the Racial Gap in Drowning

According to a national research study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation with the University of Memphis and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 60 percent of African American children cannot swim, compared to 40 percent of White children. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning rates for Black people are disproportionately higher than that of White people across all age groups, a rate that has remained largely unchanged.

A new survey conducted by the YMCA finds significant racial disparities in water safety education. Among the findings of the report are:

  • Black parents are 1.6 times more likely, in comparison to the U.S. parent population surveyed, to report having low confidence with water or water activities. This corresponds with supporting data that 44 percent of Black parents self-report to have only beginner or no swimming abilities, a nearly 20 percentage point difference in comparison to the overall U.S. parent population.
  • Nine in 10 U.S. parents see swimming as a key life skill for children, on par with first aid skills or being able to prepare a simple meal, Black parents surveyed are less likely to encourage their children’s participation in water activities.
  • Nearly 60 percent of Black parents have negative associations towards lakes, rivers, beaches, or the ocean, and 40 percent have negative sentiments toward pools.

“We know from the USA Swimming Foundation that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13 percent chance that their child will learn how to swim. However, we must analyze this data point in the context of American history,” said Lindsay Mondick, director of innovative priorities at YMCA of the USA. “There is a history of exclusion associated with swimming pools, in particular, that has contributed to some of the racial inequities we see in data associated with drownings.”

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