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Is There a "Race" Effect on Concern for Environmental Quality?

Paul Mohai and Bunyan Bryant
The Public Opinion Quarterly
Vol. 62, No. 4 (Winter, 1998), pp. 475-505
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749675
Page Count: 31
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Is There a "Race" Effect on Concern for Environmental Quality?
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Abstract

Efforts to examine racial differences in environmental attitudes and to explain what may account for them are relatively recent. A conventional wisdom has been that African Americans are not as concerned as are whites about environmental quality issues. Although this view has been challenged by recent studies and by the rising visibility of a grassroots "environmental justice" movement, much of the recent research has failed to distinguish among the many various types of environmental issues about which African Americans and white Americans may be concerned. Our review of the literature suggests that there are sound theoretical reasons to expect that African Americans are less concerned than arewhites about some issues (such as nature preservation issues) but that they are more concerned about others (such as pollution). In particular, three theoretical explanations have a bearing on understanding racial differences in environmental concern: (1) hierarchy of needs, (2) cultural differences, and (3)environmental deprivation. The first two predict that African Americans are lessconcerned about the environment than are whites. The third Predicts that AfricanAmericans are more concerned than are whites. We tested hypotheses about these explanations from a comprehensive survey of residents in the Detroit metropolitan area. We found little evidence to support the theoretical explanations that predict African Americans are less concerned about the environment than are whites. To the contrary, we found few differences between Africna Americans and whites, even over the nature preservation issues about which African Americans long have been thought to be unconcerned. Where significant differences existed, they were over local environmental problems, with African Americans expressing substantially greater concern than did whites.That racial differences in concern about such issues is a function of the disproportionate burden of environmental disamenities in African American neighborhoods was demostrated from a multivariate analysis that employed a wide range of local environmental quality indicators.

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