More than two thirds of black women say that having a successful career is very important to them, yet they also worry more about paying their bills and losing their jobs. That’s according to new nationwide survey of 800 black women conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post, which calls it “the most extensive exploration of the lives and views of African American women in decades.” Overall, it paints an encouraging, nuanced picture of black women in America.
The career question is an interesting one. All told, 68% of black women say it’s very important to them, compared to 45% of white women. (The results narrow when you combine the groups who answered “very important” and “somewhat important.”) They also say that being wealthy is more important to them. But they’re more worried about losing their jobs than white women (22% and 14%, respectively), and they also more about having money to pay their bills (38% to 29%).
What to make of all this? An armchair sociologist might speculate that we value what we don’t have, and don’t value what we take for granted: White men, who report the fewest problems with facing lack of respect in their day-to-day lives (duh), also are least likely to say they place a high value on being respected by others. Perhaps black women value financial stability because it is more often out of reach for them.
But the Post also points out that black women have historically been “overrepresented in the workforce compared with other women.” “Career for black women has always been about economic necessity and also a sense of economic destiny,” Constance C.R. White, editor of Essence, tells the paper.
Another interesting finding: Black women are twice as likely as white women (36% to 18%) to say that sexism is a big problem in our society. And black men are even likelier to say as much. Meanwhile, only 12% of white men see it in the same light.
But overall, the survey paints an optimistic picture. 73% of black women say it’s a good time to be a black woman in America. And they may be onto something. As the Post points out:
It is a time in which one-third of employed black women work in management or professional jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a record number are attending college. Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women. The number of businesses owned by black women has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 900,000, according to census figures. Just Friday, Wal-Mart named Rosalind Brewer chief executive of Sam’s Club, making her the first African American to be chief executive for a business unit of the world’s largest retailer.
That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing, but this perspective — and the optimism displayed the surveyed women — indicate that much of the hand-wringing about black women has been misplaced. Isn’t it nice to get a little good news?