The use of data is more effective than personal stories in helping people understand the magnitude and structural causes of the Black-white wealth gap in the United States, according to a new study by Yale researchers.
The study, published on Sept. 13 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on an experiment showing that people are more likely to change their misperceptions of the racial wealth gap when presented messages featuring detailed data about economic disparities between Black and white Americans than when receiving interventions focused solely on narratives of individual struggle.
Many Americans either misperceive or don’t know about substantial, longstanding wealth disparities between Black and white American families, the researchers explained. In 2019, Black families’ average wealth was less than 15% of the average wealth of white families, according to a report by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Yet, when asked about a wealth gap, survey respondents have estimated, on average, that Black families possess as much as $90 in wealth for every $100 owned by white families, according to a recent study conducted by many of the same researchers who authored this new paper.