Priority Populations

Racial-Ethnic Inequality in Child Well-Being from 1985-2004: Gaps Narrowing, But Persist

Since 1985, racial/ethnic differences among Black, Hispanic, and White children have been narrowing overall. This is good news. If, however, we aim to close the gaps within a generation, we must remain vigilant about advancing policies that raise the well-being of all our children.

Our goal is not only to close gaps, but also to raise the quality of life for all American children higher than it now is. These findings from a new analysis of child well-being demonstrate that change in child well-being is possible, but more must be done.

This report is the first to analyze how child and youth well-being has changed among Black, Hispanic, and White children from 1985-2004. Using the Foundation for Child Development Child Well-Being Index (CWI) and its domains and indicators, the report presents a new and surprising picture of change.

Key findings include:

  • Black, Hispanic, and White children experienced overall improvements in the quality of life.
  • Both Black children and Hispanic children were advantaged compared to White children in the emotional/spiritual domain.
  • Black and Hispanic children also benefited from advances in the safety-behavioral domains including reduced cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, and use of illicit drugs.
  • Gaps in family economic well-being narrowed for both Black and Hispanic children as parental employment and health insurance coverage increased.
  • Even if Black and Hispanic children reached parity with the current level of well-being among White children, the overall well-being of all three groups would be substantially below the best that the U.S. has ever achieved on these measures, and levels of well-being currently experienced by international peers of the U.S.

This report is based on the full paper Measuring Social Disparities: A Modified Approach to the Index of Child Well-Being (CWI) for Race-Ethnic, Immigrant-Generation, and Socioeconomic Groups with New Results for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, drawing on a working paper prepared for the forum Review of the Child Well-Being Index, on May 10, 2006, co-sponsored by Foundation for Child Development and the Brookings Institution.