Racial and Ethnic Group Stratification

Consequences of Racial Stratification

Racial stratification has consequences in areas including educational attainment, unemployment, income, health, and life expectancy.

Social stratification refers to the way people are ranked in a society's hierarchy. People who occupy the lower layers or strata of society—i.e., the lower social classes—control less power, wealth, and liberties. Racial stratification refers to the impact that people's race or ethnic group has on their position in the social hierarchy. A racially stratified society exhibits racial inequality, the unequal access to a society's resources based on race or ethnicity.

In the United States, different races and ethnic groups fare much differently in nearly all areas of life, including education, employment, income, wealth, health, and life expectancy. For example data from 2016 showed these disparities:

  • The median family income of African Americans is about 60 percent that of white families. Hispanic income is about 75 percent that of white families. The median income of Asian Americans is about 20 percent higher than that of white Americans.
  • The unemployment rate for Hispanics is about 20 percent higher and for African Americans over twice as high as for white people.
  • Twice as many Hispanics and African Americans live in poverty compared to white Americans.
  • Nearly a third of people identified as white are college educated. That compares to about 23 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics. Over half of Asian Americans hold college degrees.
  • The infant mortality rate for African Americans is twice the number for whites and Hispanics. Life expectancy for African Americans is nearly four years (0.05 percent) less than for white Americans.
While levels of education, income, health, and other measures vary somewhat over time, the basic structure of racial stratification in the United States is fairly consistent. For example, median income rises over time, but levels for white Americans and Asian Americans are consistently higher than for Hispanic Americans and African Americans. This illustrates how race impacts social attainment.

Median Household Income by Race (U.S.)

On average, African Americans and Hispanic Americans make substantially less annual income, indicating that racial stratification has a measurable impact on certain ethnic and racial groups.