Can Family Relationships Explain the Race Paradox in Mental Health?


  • This article was edited by David H. Demo.

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, Rutgers–The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ 08901 (


Biomedical research consistently finds that Blacks have worse physical health than Whites, an expected pattern given Blacks' greater exposure to psychosocial stress, poverty, and discrimination. Yet there is surprising lack of consensus regarding race differences in mental health, with most scholars finding similar or better mental health outcomes among Blacks than Whites. Past research often attributes this “race paradox in mental health” to the notion that Blacks have stronger family networks than Whites, yet few studies have explicitly tested whether stronger family relationships among Blacks (if they exist) can account for these findings. Using data from the 2003–2005 National Survey of American Life (N = 4,259) revealed that minimal race differences in family relationships fail to explain the race paradox in mental health. The results have implications for mental health measurement, the provision of culturally appropriate mental health care, and how scholars understand the nature of family relationships among Black Americans.