MIAMI – Only half of African-American youths are confident of living to age 35, said a study Wednesday that lays bare the toll of the racial divide in the United States.
The figure is even lower, at 38 percent, for Mexican-born youths living in the United States, said the study in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Among whites, the number who felt “almost certain” to survive to age 35 was far higher — 66 percent.
Whites and Cuban-Americans were by far the most optimistic about the future, the study found.
“Whites are not subject to the racism and discrimination, at institutional and individual levels, experienced by immigrants and U.S.-born racial and ethnic minorities that undermine health, well-being and real and/or perceived life chances,” said Tara Warner, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Such experiences — including fear of victimization and/or deportation — can be a source of chronic stress for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as immigrants, that further undermines well-being, even among youth,” Warner said in a statement.
The study, “Adolescent Survival Expectations: Variations by Race, Ethnicity, and Nativity,” is described by its authors as the first to document patterns of survival expectations across racial, ethnic and immigrant groups.
The data come from a national U.S. survey involving 17,100 people between ages 12 and 25.
Lead author Warner and co-author Raymond Swisher, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, narrowed their research to people who self-identified as white, black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Asian.
“Our most surprising finding is that foreign-born Mexican young people are the most pessimistic about their future survival — even more pessimistic than their black peers,” said Warner.
“This pessimism remains even after accounting for a number of risk factors known to undermine survival, such as lack of routine health care, exposure to neighborhood poverty, and experiences with violence.”
Researchers found that U.S.-born Cubans were even slightly more optimistic than young whites.
That could be linked to their relative economic advantages compared to other minority peers, said Warner.
“U.S.-born Cubans also have higher aspirations and expectations, even compared to whites, for significant events, including attending college and getting married,” Warner said.
Understanding youth outlook is vital because it affects how they plan for the future and may lead to violence, experts say.
“If young people don’t expect to live very long, they may engage in risky behaviors that help make those survival expectations a reality,” Warner warned.
“We should be thinking of ways to change that.”