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Black Men Making it in America: The Engines of Economic Success for Black Men in America

by W. Bradford Wilcox; Wendy R. Wang; Ronald B. Mincy

Jun 1, 2018

This report seeks specifically to answer two important sets of questions that bear on the economic fortunes of black men in America:

1. What share of black men have reached the middle class or higher as adults? What share are in poverty?

2. What are the key institutional and cultural engines of economic success for black men in America today?

  • More than one-in-two black men (57%) have made it into the middle class or higher as adults today, up from 38% in 1960, according to a new analysis of Census data. And the share of black men who are poor has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% in 2016.
  • As expected, higher education and full-time work look like engines of success for black men in America. But three other institutions that tend to get less attention in our current discussions of race—the U.S. military, the black church, and marriage—also appear to play significant roles in black men’s success.
  • 52% of black men who had a higher sense of agency as young men have made it into at least the middle class when they reached age 50, compared to 44% of their peers who did not have that sense of agency
  • Only 28% of black men who had contact with the criminal justice system when they were young have moved into the middle or upper class, compared to 52% of black men who had no contact with the criminal justice system at a younger age.