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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Research Redefines What it Means to be Middle Class

This just in from Newswise.com:

Newswise — For generations, social scientists have defined the black middle class in family terms, as married couples with children. But a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that a growing percentage of the black middle class are young single people living alone.

“We’ve dispelled the assumption among scholars that blacks have to be married to be middle class,” said Kris Marsh, Ph.D., a post-doctoral scholar at UNC’s Carolina Population Center and author of the study, which appears in the December issue of the journal Social Forces.

Pop culture already reflects this trend. In her study, Marsh names single middle-class blacks the Love Jones cohort, borrowing the title of a 1997 movie about a similar group.

And, in the acronymic spirit of social science, which gave us DINKs (dual-income, no kids) and DEWKs (dual-earners with kids), Marsh coined the phrase SALA for people in all income brackets who are single (never married) and living alone, which includes Oprah Winfrey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and radio and TV personality Tavis Smiley.

Marsh and her colleagues studied United States census data from 1980, 1990 and 2000. The data show that among the black middle class, ages 25 to 44, the Love Jones cohort more than doubled its share between 1980 and 2000, from 5.8 percent to more than 14 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of married couples, living together, with children declined from 64.6 percent to 48 percent in that same time period.

By following the data through three decades, the study also confirmed that SALAs, and especially the Love Jones cohort, do not simply delay marriage but remain single and continue to accumulate wealth.

This contradicts previous research that said a reduction in marriage and childbearing has created a black middle class in stagnation or in decline. Instead, Marsh said, her work reveals a vibrant population, but the composition is changing.

“Numerous studies suggest that the black middle class has been losing economic ground – objectively and relative to whites,” said Karyn Lacy, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who was not part of the study.

“Marsh's innovative study makes clear that scholars reached this conclusion because they've been focusing on the wrong people. By looking exclusively at married couples, scholars miss the group, which is slowly becoming a fixture in the black middle class – single black professionals who do not marry or become parents. Their status as single and middle class challenges just about everything that we think we know about life in the middle and will demand new research on the consumption patterns, housing preferences and lifestyles of this influential group,” Lacy said.

Click below for the Newswise article in its entirety:

Study Redefines Black Middle Class as More Adults Stay Single and Live Alone

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