Now, 3-year-old Kaila Kirksey refers to Ladson as Auntie Jane, and the dream house is filled with stuffed animals and plastic teacups, the television tuned to the Disney Channel.
According to the Post-Kaiser poll, 36 percent of black women said they regularly help friends or family with child care, compared with 24 percent of white women. And 49 percent said they regularly assist elderly relatives, while 39 percent of white women did.
That dynamic persists even though the economic boom has given way to a harsher financial reality. Nearly three-quarters of black women worry about not having enough money to pay their bills, more than white men or women. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to report problems meeting their rent or mortgage payments. Twenty-nine percent had burdensome medical bills, compared with 22 percent of white women. Nearly a quarter of black women had trouble getting a loan, while just 16 percent of white women did.
The findings dovetail with previous research by economists and sociologists that consistently show that black middle-class families tend to provide financial help to family members — especially parents and siblings — at higher rates than other racial groups. A study last year by the Urban Institute found that African Americans are more likely to receive familial support than whites and Hispanics, although the dollar amounts tend to be smaller.
“I think many African Americans feel a special obligation to those family members who have not done as well,” said Margaret Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute and director of the group’s Low-Income Working Families project, who led the organization’s study, which did not take gender into consideration. “When you have higher incidences of unemployment and poverty in the African American community, you find that their better-off kin will be more likely to give.”
Experts who have studied these trends said that black families’ generosity may come with consequences. A 2005 study by economists N.S. Chiteji and Darrick Hamilton found that black families, more than their white counterparts, struggle to build wealth because of the financial circumstances of their relatives.
“It may be that basic character traits like compassion and generosity combined with the tendency to have less fortunate relatives may actually explain the adverse outcomes experienced by some middle-class families,” said Chiteji, a professor of economics at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.