It’s no secret that anti-Black racism is bad for one’s mental and physical health. A newly released study found it also impacts the health of romantic relationships in a significant way.
The Journal of Social Science & Medicine published the study by researchers from the University of Buffalo that followed data that tracked two generations of Black couples using the Family and Community Health Study (FACHS), launched in 1997.
“People’s lives are inextricably linked, and what happens to one person, particularly in a family, can impact the other,” one of the study’s authors, Ashley Barr, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo, said.
The study followed 112 older adult couples whose ages averaged in the mid to late 50s and 151 younger adult couples in their late 20s and early 30s. It found racism is a “stress contagion” often transferred from one partner to another.
“These findings demonstrate empirically how the effects of discrimination reverberate across romantic relationships. The effect of discrimination for couples makes the impact of discrimination on health a problem significantly larger than previously thought — and it was a profoundly devastating problem to begin with,” Barr said. “By failing to take linked lives into account, we will not fully understand the consequences of racism and discrimination across a variety of outcomes, health being among them.”
The University of Buffalo study may be the most comprehensive, but it isn’t the first to specifically examine the impact of racism on romantic relationships.
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In June 2022, Cornell published a study titled “The Relational Wear and Tear of Everyday Racism Among African American Couples.” It followed 98 Black heterosexual couples for 21 days to determine the impact of racism on their relationships.
According to a summary of the study in the Cornell Chronicle, findings showed when one partner was impacted by racism, the relationship quality suffered.
“The results showed an inverse association between relationship quality and heightened affective reactivity to everyday racism,” the summary said. “Regardless of gender, study participants said a partner’s anger, depression or humiliation from a racist experience spilled over into their relationship, with one consequence being lower levels of passion or intimacy. The effects were greater when negative feelings intensified, versus when positive feelings diminished.”
Anthony Ong is the Cornell study’s lead author. HE is also a professor of psychology in the College of Human Ecology (CHE) and professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“These findings suggest more attention should be paid to the effects of racism-related stress in African American couples among whom heightened affective reactivity to daily encounters of racial discrimination may reflect an embedded history of racism,” Ong said.