Exploring complexity in well-being: A mixed methods examination of the Black women’s well-being paradox

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This study explores the complexity of Black women’s well-being and policy experience along the income distribution. This dissertation consists of three separate but related essays. Chapter 1 argues for the active inclusion of intersectionality theory in social and economic policy work. I rely on the literature to draw clear links between the intersectionality theoretical framework, the study of subjective well-being, and the development of equitable public policy to support well-being. In chapter 2, I explore an intracategorical complexity approach to intersectionality, focusing on unpacking the layers of difference among Black middle-class women and investigating how they relate to well-being. Using qualitative focus group data, I uncover the key factors shaping well-being for 22 Black middle-class women in Wichita, KS and Las Vegas, NV and discuss what a policy agenda might look like to support their well-being. Results of this transformative exploratory sequential mixed methods design suggested health, money, and social support, like friendships, family, and romantic partnerships, were core determinants of well-being for Black middle-class women. Quantitatively, Black middle-class women’s well-being and determinants differed significantly by their level of education and by a combination of their parenthood and marital status. This work revealed that structural oppression may be influencing Black middle-class women’s well-being by the shaping of the distribution of their determinants of well-being. In chapter 3, I focus on subjective well-being at the intersection of race, gender, and class through an intentional focus on Black women in different income classes. Relying on Gallup Daily data from 2010-2016, I explore both intracategorical and intercategorical complexity, comparing well-being and its determinants within race-gender and across it. This work reveals a paradox of well-being for Black women: in every income class, Black women are more optimistic and less stressed than white people, despite having less of the objective factors known to contribute to that well-being. I offer potential explanations for this paradox. Through an intentional focus on Black women, this work takes an early step in unpacking the relationship between policy-relevant objective factors (like financial security surrounding food and healthcare access and relative health status) and subjective well-being in the lives of an American public imbued with racial and gender diversity. The overall results of this study illustrate the importance of qualitative and mixed methods inquiry into the economic, health, and social position of Black women in the U.S. in order to yield further lessons for policies that could benefit this group.