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Prevalence of Substance Use Among Racial & Ethnic Subgroups in the U.S.

Chapter 3 Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics of Racial/Ethnic Subgroups

3.1 Introduction

Using the combined 1991-93 NHSDAs, this chapter presents data on demographic and socioeconomic differences among racial/ethnic subgroups. One purpose is to demonstrate the substantial internal heterogeneity of the eleven racial/ethnic subcategories defined in Chapter 2. Giving attention to this diversity within subgroups helps to negate stereotypes and to suggest the limits of generalization (Collins, 1992). A second purpose is to lay the basis for interpreting the racial/ethnic differences in substance use that are presented in Chapters 4 and 5. Some previous studies have analyzed racial/ethnic differences in behavior without simultaneously controlling for important covariates that are themselves highly associated with the behavior (Ponterotto, 1988), a practice that can give rise to incorrect interpretations of racial/ethnic differences. For example, the percentage using illicit drugs in the past year is higher among individuals aged less than 35 than it is among individuals aged 35 and older (see Table 4.4), while the percent of individuals who are less than 35 years old is higher among Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-Hispanic blacks, and most Hispanic subgroups than among non-Hispanic whites (Table 3.1). Thus, even if there were no differences among racial/ethnic subgroups in the percentage using illicit drugs at each age, the overall percentage of non-Hispanic whites using illicit drugs would be low relative to most other subgroups simply because relatively many non-Hispanic whites have already passed through the ages when the prevalence of illicit drug is greatest. Similarly, racial/ethnic differences in substance use are at least partially due to differences in the socioeconomic compositions of the subgroups and to geographic and other sociodemographic differences among the subgroups.

For brevity throughout this report, we refer to the Hispanic-Cuban subgroup as "Cubans," to the Hispanic-Mexico subgroup as "Mexicans," to the Hispanic-Puerto Rico subgroup as "Puerto Ricans," to the Hispanic-Caribbean subgroup as "Caribbeans," to the Hispanic-Central America subgroup as "Central Americans," and to the Hispanic-South America subgroup as "South Americans" (for further discussion see Section 2.2).

Based on the detailed analyses of this chapter, some important sociodemographic differences among the eleven racial/ethnic subgroups in 1991-93 are the following:

·Racial/ethnic differences in age distribution: As mentioned above, the percent of individuals who are less than 35 years old is higher among Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-Hispanic blacks, and most Hispanic subgroups (Cubans are the notable exception) than among non-Hispanic whites. Central Americans, Mexicans, and Caribbeans in particular have relatively high percentages of individuals in the youngest three age groups.

·Racial/ethnic differences in regional distribution: Most racial/ethnic subgroups were concentrated in one or two regions of the country. For example, Native Americans reside mostly in the South (42%) and in the West (36%), while Asian/Pacific Islanders are mostly in the West (51%). Non-Hispanic whites were distributed much more evenly across the four regions.

·Racial/ethnic differences in population density: About 75% of Asian/Pacific Islanders and more than 75% of each Hispanic subgroup, except Mexicans (62%) and other Hispanics (31%), lived in metropolitan areas with populations of greater than 1 million. Only four subgroups had more than 10% living in non-metropolitan areas—other Hispanics (47%), Native Americans (41%), non-Hispanic whites (27%), and non-Hispanic blacks (14%).

·Racial/ethnic differences in the language used in the NHSDA interview: Among Hispanic subgroups, the percentage who used Spanish in the NHSDA interview was relatively low among Puerto Ricans (7.7%) and other Hispanics (5.1%) and relatively high among Central Americans (50%), Cubans (36%), Mexicans (32%), and Caribbeans (28%).

·Racial/ethnic differences in family income: Non-Hispanic blacks, Caribbeans, Central Americans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans had lower family income, on average, than Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-Hispanic whites, and Cubans. For example, the percentage of individuals aged 12 and older living in families with incomes less than $20,000 equals about 49% among non-Hispanic blacks, 53% among Caribbeans, 49% among Central Americans, 47% among Mexicans, and 46% among Puerto Ricans. In contrast, it equals about 23% among Asian/Pacific Islanders, 30% among non-Hispanic whites, and 33% among Cubans.

·Racial/ethnic differences in receipt of welfare and health insurance coverage: The percentage of individuals aged 12 and older who resided in families in which a member of the household received welfare is relatively high among Caribbeans (20%), Puerto Ricans (18%), Native Americans (15%), and non-Hispanic blacks (14%). The percentage of individuals aged 12 and older with no health insurance is relatively high among Central Americans (48%), Mexicans (37%), Caribbeans (35%), and South Americans (34%).

·Racial/ethnic differences in educational attainment: Of the eleven racial/ethnic subgroups, Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-Hispanic whites, and South Americans had the highest percentages of individuals aged 18 and older who had some education beyond high school (61%, 47%, and 45% respectively). Mexicans, Central Americans, and Caribbeans had the highest percentages with eight or fewer years of education (33%, 33%, and 29%, respectively).

·Racial/ethnic differences in marital status: The highest percentages of never-married individuals were found among non-Hispanic blacks (32% of individuals aged 18 and older), Central Americans (30%), South Americans (28%), and Asian/Pacific Islanders (28%).

·Racial/ethnic differences in employment status: Of the eleven racial/ethnic subgroups, Native Americans reported the highest percentage of individuals who were unemployed (16% of those aged 18 and older). Non-Hispanic blacks and the Hispanic subgroups, except Cubans, had between 8% and 12% unemployed. Non-Hispanic whites (5.0%), Cubans (5.5%), and Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.8%) reported the lowest percentages of unemployed.

·Racial/ethnic differences in number of own children living in the household: The percentage of young adults living with a child of their own was relatively low among Asian/Pacific Islanders (6% of individuals aged 18 to 25) and Cubans (11%), and relatively high among Mexicans (35%), Central Americans (34%), and non-Hispanic blacks (31%).

·Racial/ethnic differences in household size: The mean number of individuals per household ranged from a minimum of 3.0 among non-Hispanic whites to a maximum of 4.5 among Central Americans and Mexicans.

·Racial/ethnic differences in school enrollment status: Native Americans (7.9%), other Hispanics (5.8%), Central Americans (5.1%) and Mexicans (4.8%) had relatively high percentages of individuals aged 12 to 17 who had dropped out of school, compared with Asian/Pacific Islanders, South Americans, and non-Hispanic whites who had relatively low percentages of 1.5%, 1.7%, and 1.9% respectively.

·Racial/ethnic differences in family structure: The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 17 living in households with both a mother and a father was relatively low among Native Americans (35%), non-Hispanic blacks (36%), and Caribbeans (41%), and relatively high among Asian/Pacific Islanders (78%), other Hispanics (69%) and non-Hispanic whites (66%).

The next section presents statistical tables that support these conclusions.

3.2 Percentage Distributions of Racial/Ethnic Subgroups by Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics

Table 3.1 presents the percentage distributions of racial/ethnic subgroups by sociodemographic variables for the total surveyed population aged 12 and older (except for education, marital status, and employment which are restricted to ages 18 and older). Tables 3.2-3.5 present analogous percentage distributions by racial/ethnic subgroup for individuals aged 12 to 17, 18 to 25, 26 to 34, and 35 and older, respectively. The data in these tables show that most sociodemographic differences among racial/ethnic subgroups tend to be similar across age groups, especially in comparisons of ages 18 to 25, 26 to 34, and 35 and older. Therefore, this section focuses primarily on the overall patterns of racial/ethnic differences presented in Table 3.1 and secondarily on deviations from the overall patterns shown in Table 3.2- 3.5.

Table 3.1 shows that geographic distribution is an important factor distinguishing racial/ethnic subgroups. More than 75% of Mexicans, Native Americans, and other Hispanics lived in either the South or the West, 84% of Caribbeans lived in the Northeast, and 70% of Cubans lived in the South. Non-Hispanic whites were distributed more evenly among three or more regions; so to a lesser extent were non-Hispanic blacks, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and South Americans. About three-quarters or more of Asian/Pacific Islanders and of most Hispanic subgroups (Caribbeans, Central Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and South Americans) lived in metropolitan areas with population of 1 million or more. Only four subgroups had more than 10% of individuals aged 12 and older living in non-metropolitan areas—other Hispanics (47%), Native Americans (41%), non-Hispanic whites (27%), and non-Hispanic blacks (14%).

Table 3.1 also shows that, among the seven Hispanic subgroups, other Hispanics and Puerto Ricans were the least likely to choose Spanish for the NHSDA interview (5.1% and 7.7% respectively). Central Americans (50%), Cubans (36%), Mexicans (32%), and Caribbeans (28%) were the most likely to complete the interview in Spanish. Table 3.2 shows that the same general pattern arises when the analysis is restricted to adolescents aged 12 to 17. However, within each Hispanic subgroup, the percentage of adolescents who chose to use Spanish was lower than the percentage of adults who chose to use Spanish.

A consistent pattern emerges from the socioeconomic indicators presented in Table 3.1. Non-Hispanic blacks, Native Americans, and several Hispanic groups (particularly Caribbeans, Central Americans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans) had relatively low family incomes on average, while Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-Hispanic whites, and Cubans had relatively high family incomes on average. Similarly, non-Hispanic blacks, Native Americans, and the same Hispanic subgroups (Caribbeans, Central Americans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans) had relatively high percentages who were unemployed, without health insurance, and living in households in which a member received welfare. The racial/ethnic subgroups in which one-third or more had no health insurance coverage included Central Americans (48%), Mexicans (37%), Caribbeans (35%), and South Americans (34%). The percentage unemployed ranges from a high of about 16% among Native Americans to 6% or less among non-Hispanic whites, Cubans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. There are even more pronounced racial/ethnic differences in employment status when the analysis is restricted to 18- to 25-year-olds (Table 3.3): About 25% of Native Americans, 19% of Caribbeans, 18% of non-Hispanic blacks, and 16% of Puerto Ricans were unemployed in this age group, as compared with only about 4.7% of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 9.5% of non-Hispanic whites.

The rankings of racial/ethnic subgroups with respect to educational attainment in Table 3.1 are closely similar to their rankings with respect to family income and other socioeconomic indicators. About one-third of Caribbeans, Central Americans, and Mexicans aged 18 and older had eight or fewer years of schooling, as compared with only 4.6% of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 6.4% of non-Hispanic whites. Native Americans also had a relatively small percentage of individuals aged 18 and older who had eight or fewer years of schooling (6.2%). Tables 3.2- 3.5 suggest that racial/ethnic differences in educational attainment do vary somewhat by age group. For example, a comparison of Tables 3.3 and 3.5 indicates that the difference between Asian/Pacific Islanders and non-Hispanic whites in the percentage who had some education beyond high school is much larger among young adults aged 18 to 25 (65% versus 46%) than among adults aged 35 and older (56% versus 45%). Especially among younger birth cohorts, Asian/Pacific Islanders have by far the highest percentage who have had some education beyond high school.

Table 3.1 also shows that the groups with the highest percentages of never-married respondents aged 18 and older were non-Hispanic blacks (32%), Central Americans (30%), and South Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders (28% each). Even though the distribution of marital status is highly associated with age, the rankings of racial/ethnic subgroups with respect to the percentage of never-married individuals are closely similar in Tables 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5.

In contrast to the marked differences among racial/ethnic subgroups in socioeconomic status measures and educational attainment, Table 3.1 shows relatively small racial/ethnic differences in the percentage of individuals aged 12 and older who lived with one or more of their own children of any age. This percentage ranges from a low of about 42% among Asian/Pacific Islanders to a high of about 50% among Mexicans. The percentage of individuals who live with their own children varies with age for well-known demographic reasons, because most individuals marry and have children in their twenties and thirties and their children leave home, if they do, when they are in their forties and fifties. Yet Tables 3.3 through 3.5 suggest that racial/ethnic differences in the percentage living with children are largely invariant with respect to age. The largest racial/ethnic differences arise in the 35-and-older age group (Table 3.5), where 65% or more of Central Americans, Caribbeans, Mexicans, and South Americans live with at least one of their own children, as compared with only about 41% of non-Hispanic whites. This difference may reflect higher marital fertility among most Hispanic subgroups than among non-Hispanic whites (Harrison and Bennett, 1995). High marital fertility typically means that one or both parents continue to have children during their thirties and early forties so that the parents may be relatively advanced in age when the last child is old enough to live independently. This difference in living with at least one child may also reflect socioeconomic or cultural differences. Children may continue to live with parents into adulthood because of cultural norms about living in multi-generational households, or to minimize living expenses.

In the analysis restricted to adolescents aged 12 to 17 (Table 3.2), Native Americans (7.9%), other Hispanics (5.8%), Central Americans (5.1%) and Mexicans (4.8%) had the highest percentage who had dropped out of school. Native Americans (65%), non-Hispanic blacks (64%), and Caribbeans (59%) had the highest percentages living with fewer than two parents. The rankings of racial/ethnic subgroups with respect to the percentages of adolescents who dropped out of school and the percentages who lived with fewer than two parents are similar to their rankings with respect to the measures of socioeconomic status and educational attainment.

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This page was last updated on May 19, 2008.