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National Survey Of Black Americans

National Survey Of Black Americans


The Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA) at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research is the longest-running social science research project devoted to the collection, analysis, and interpretation of survey data based on international, national, and regional probability samples of black populations. The findings from analyses of the original 1980 National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) and over twenty subsequent studies continue to be of major scientific value and relevance to public policy. Both the quality and the precision of the original national cross-section, panel, and three-generation family samples, as well as the numerous subsequent studies, make the results of immense importance to social scientists and policymakers.

The 1980 NSBA adult cross-section study is notable because, using novel sampling techniques, it permitted for the first time national estimates of the statuses and life situations of black Americans across the entire range of socioeconomic and other demographic groupings in the population. The inclusion of policy-relevant questions revealed individual and group opinions and feelings that fully represented the breadth and diversity of black people located in all walks of life across the entire United States.

One more recent national study, the 2003 National Survey of American Life (NSAL), includes a very large, nationally representative sample of African Americans (3,600), permitting an examination of the heterogeneity of experience across groups. The NSAL also includes the first nationally representative sample of Caribbean blacks (1,650). As a result, the data from this project permit the identification of differences among various important demographic groups often lumped together within the black American population. A related international study of black multigeneration family members in the United States and the Caribbean, as well as large regional adult samples in Jamaica and Guyana, was completed in 2006.

These types of data are critical due to changing immigration patterns and the major changes in living patterns and conditions, family structure, and social circumstances that have occurred among black populations since 1980. The NSAL successfully employed new methods to ascertain the methodological and substantive influences of structurally missing members of black households (e.g., young men in prisons and lockups) on sampling and social, psychological, and health estimates. Finally, all respondents (including the 1,006 whites) in the NSAL were selected from the targeted geographic segments in proportion to the African American and Afro-Caribbean population. Thus, questions related to neighborhood characteristics, service use, and risk and protective factors, for example, will make for important and novel comparisons not possible with prior studies.

In sum, nearly thirty years of PRBA's large probability studies of political participation, perceived and reported discrimination, religion, physical and mental health, and life-course development in population-based black samples have emanated from the original, path-breaking 1980 NSBA thirteen-year, four-wave, longitudinal panel survey. PRBA research continues to make major contributions to understanding how social, cultural, and other contextual factors relate to the ways in which racial status and racialized treatment affect the behaviors, physical and mental health, attitudes, and values of blacks in the United States and the larger African diasporas.

SEE ALSO African Americans; Demography; Discrimination; Employment; Inequality, Racial; Occupational Status; Race; Racism; Unemployment; Wages


Jackson, James S. ed. 1991. Life in Black America. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Jackson, James S., Harold W. Neighbors, Randolph M. Nesse, et al. 2004. Methodological Innovations in the National Survey of American Life. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 13 (4): 289298.

Jackson, James S., Myriam Torres, Cleopatra H. Caldwell, et al. 2004. The National Survey of American Life: A Study of Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Influences on Mental Disorders and Mental Health. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 13 (4): 196207.

Jackson, James S., and David R. Williams. 2004. Surveying the Black American Population. In A Telescope on Society: Survey Research and Social Science at the University of Michigan and Beyond, eds. James S. House, F. Thomas Juster, Robert L. Kahn, et al., 393438. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

James S. Jackson

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