Did the Difference Between Black and White Americans in Anger-Out Decrease During the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century?

Abstract

Studies have found blacks in the USA report lower levels of anger-out and higher levels of anger-in than whites. However, most of the research on anger expression has been based on data from limited samples. The current study investigates the black–white difference in anger-in and anger-out in a sample representative of Americans aged 40 and older. Data are from the two most recent waves of the Americans’ Changing Lives (ACL) surveys. In 2001, the ACL assessed both outcomes, with anger-out re-assessed in 2011. Thus, individual-level change in anger-out can be investigated. Drawing on literature on “anger privilege,” civility, the politicization of anger, and related topics, we develop and evaluate hypotheses about: (1) the race difference in anger-out over time, (2) race as a moderator of the gender difference in both forms of anger expression, and (3) the impact of controlling for perceived discrimination on anger expression. We find blacks to report greater expressive reticence with regard to their anger (i.e., anger-in) than whites in 2001. That race difference became nonsignificant when discrimination was controlled. The race difference in anger-out was of borderline significance in 2001 and became significant after discrimination was controlled. Longitudinal analyses show that the race difference in anger-out decreased over time. The rate that anger-out decreased by did not significantly differ by race. We discuss processes that that could contribute to our results. We also speculate about how current trends in political anger expression might be related to the patterns we observe.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We conducted a brief analysis of the 1996 GSS data because the results reported by Simon and Nath (2004) are somewhat inconsistent with the results of Schieman’s (2000) analysis of the same data. In analyses of data from the total GSS sample, Schieman (2000) found no race difference (i.e., white versus non-white) in “letting people know” that one is angry. In a sample restricted to those who were aged 35 and older, we found a significant difference between blacks and whites (b = 0.34, se = 0.116, p < 0.01) and between whites and non-whites (b = 0.25, se = 0.105, p < 0.05) in level of agreement (five-point response scale) with the statement “When I am angry, I let people know.” That sample matches the age cohort of respondents in the current analysis of the ACL data, which is based on data from respondents who were aged 40 and older in 2001 (restricting the GSS sample to those aged 40 and over produced the same findings).

    Differences between the analyses of GSS data and the analyses of ACL data reported here suggest that the race difference in moderate forms of anger expression is influenced by different processes than those that underlie the association between race and anger-out. The inconsistent race difference across analyses and outcomes might reflect differences at a number of levels. For example, there may be differences between black communities and white communities in emotion norms (Rosenwein 2002; Stearns and Stearns 1985), as well as disparate tendencies within individuals of different race within the same community. Norms may govern anger-out-related behaviors, such as “lashing out” at others more than “letting others know,” which may be tied more to individual-level propensities.

  2. 2.

    A race difference in relatively extreme forms of anger expression is also a concern because anger expression is associated with negative individual-level outcomes, such as health problems (Brondolo et al. 2009; Dorr et al. 2007; Johnson and Greene 1991). We focus on the political aspects of anger expression because we are primarily concerned with the causes of historical change in the race difference in anger-out, and we argue that political and cultural factors (associated with structural factors) are likely to drive historical change in forms of emotional expression.

  3. 3.

    Some academic research has been characterized as contributing to racist stereotypes. For example, when Kochman (1981) asserted on the basis of his ethnographic research that blacks display emotions in a more forceful manner than whites, a number of reviewers argued that Kochman’s methodological approach was problematic, and his interpretations “verge on being stereotypic” (Barbarin, 1982; see Willems 1983 for a stronger indictment).

  4. 4.

    A sensitivity analyses conducted to evaluate the effect of weighting showed that the basic pattern of results from unweighted analyses is the same as reported here from weighted analyses. Weighting is intended to adjust for wave-specific non-response. However, the adequacy of weighting in adjusting anger-out scores can be questioned. The level of anger-out among respondents who are not in our analytic sample (n = 619 at wave 4, and n = 260 at wave 5) is much higher than among those in our sample. This is especially the case at wave 5, where the weighted mean predicted anger-out scores among those not in the analytic sample are 1.47 versus 1.38 for those in the analytic sample. Among blacks not in the sample, the mean prediction of anger-out at both waves is 1.50 and about 1.40 for those in the analytic sample. The overall pattern of change in anger-out, and the race difference in anger-out, though, is similar to that reported here when those who did not respond to both waves are included in our analyses.

  5. 5.

    The averages obviously mask diversity in individual-level trends. Although average anger-out scores were lower in 2011 than 2001 for more than three-quarters of the total sample, and especially among white respondents, the proportion of respondents with increasing anger-out scores was slightly greater among blacks than whites. Among blacks, 24 % had increasing scores, with 11 % having scores that increased by 1 standard deviation or more. Among whites, 21 % had increasing scores, with 8 % having scores that increased by 1 standard deviation or more.

  6. 6.

    It is useful to note that the pattern of age effects illustrates the importance of estimating effects on the two dimensions of anger expression separately, rather than combining anger-in and anger-out into a single unidimensional scale. Age has a statistically significant negative effect on both anger-in and anger-out. If responses to the anger-in and anger-out items had been combined into a single score for anger expression, the negative effect of age on both dimensions would have been masked.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Philippa Clarke, Gary Koeske, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to William Magee.

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Magee, W., Louie, P. Did the Difference Between Black and White Americans in Anger-Out Decrease During the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century?. Race Soc Probl 8, 256–270 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-016-9178-5

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Keywords

  • Emotional expression
  • Race
  • Anger privilege
  • Civility
  • Political correctness