June 14, 2024
A bar chart showing that About 6 in 10 Black adults are familiar with racial conspiracy theories about Black families and reproductive health

Aside from their beliefs about health and medicine in general, Black adults believe in racial conspiracy theories about government interventions into their families and family planning.

What is a ‘racial conspiracy theory’?

In this report, the phrase “racial conspiracy theories” refers to the suspicions that Black adults might have about the actions of U.S. institutions based on their personal and collective historical experiences with racial discrimination.

Since the introduction of social welfare programs in the mid-20th century, ideas about “man in the house” rules have circulated among the public. That is, various states required that women who received welfare payments must not live or have sexual relationships with able-bodied men, which dissuaded women from having or pursuing relationships with men while receiving benefits. If men were found in the home during a welfare home visit, the women would be accused of welfare fraud and their payments would end.

These rules were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1968, but the association between poverty, welfare and government incentives for absent Black fathers remained.

At the same time, the idea that birth control and abortion are genocidal efforts aimed at Black families and communities has a long history. Some Black political figures like Herman Cain and Ben Carson have controversially connected Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger, with efforts to eliminate the Black population through birth control and abortion. And some contemporary Black anti-abortion activists make similar claims.

This history sets the stage for the emergence of conspiracy theories about the elimination of Black men and suppression of Black population growth.

Familiarity with and belief in racial conspiracy theories about Black families

A bar chart showing that Black Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe racial conspiracy theories about absent Black fathers

About six-in-ten Black Americans (62%) have heard the idea that the government encourages single motherhood among Black women to eliminate the need for Black men in Black families, while 35% have not heard this idea at all.

By gender

Black men (65%) are more likely than Black women (59%) to have heard the idea that the government encourages Black women to be single mothers to eliminate the need for Black men.

Younger Black men are particularly more likely to have heard this. Seven-in-ten Black men under 50 are familiar with this idea, compared with smaller shares of both Black men and Black women 50 and older (58% and 50%, respectively).

By age and party

In general, younger Black adults are more familiar than older adults with the idea that the government encourages single motherhood. Those ages 18 to 29 (66%) and 30 to 49 (69%) are more likely than those 50 to 64 (56%) and 65 and older (50%) to have heard this.

And in a reversal from the general pattern of Democrats being more likely to hear about and believe in racial conspiracy theories, Black Republicans (72%) are the most likely to say they have heard that the government encourages single motherhood among Black women to eliminate the need for Black men. While still a majority, Black Democrats (60%) are less likely to say they have heard this.

Many Black Americans believe racial conspiracy theories about government elimination of Black men from their families

While 62% of Black Americans are familiar with conspiracy theories about single motherhood and Black men, fewer say the government-supported elimination of Black men from Black families is happening today. Still, more than half (55%) of Black adults say the government encouraging single motherhood among Black women to eliminate the need for Black men is something that is happening today. Smaller shares say this happened in the past but does not happen today (15%) or say this has never happened (23%).

By age and gender

Age and gender play an important role. Black adults ages 30 to 49 (59%) are more likely than those 50 to 64 (52%) and 65 and older (48%) to say the idea of the government encouraging single motherhood to eliminate the need for Black men is happening today. Black women under 50 (62%) are significantly more likely than Black women 50 and older (50%) and all Black men to say this.

By education, family income and party

In a reversal from other patterns in racial conspiracy theory beliefs, it is the Black adults with the most education and highest incomes who are among the least likely to believe government encouragement of single motherhood happens today. About half (49%) of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree say this, compared with 56% of those with less formal education. And 47% of Black adults with higher incomes say this, compared with larger shares of those with middle (54%) and lower family incomes (58%).

In another reversal, Black Republicans (62%) are more likely than Black Democrats (54%) to say that the government encouraging single motherhood among Black women is something that happens today.

Familiarity with and belief in racial conspiracy theories about reproductive health

A bar chart showing that Lower-income Black adults are most likely to believe racial conspiracy theories about reproductive health care

About six-in-ten Black Americans (58%) have heard the idea that the government promotes birth control and abortion to keep the Black population small, while 39% have not heard this idea at all.

By gender

Although Black men (60%) and women (57%) don’t differ on this question in the broad view, younger Black men stand out. Specifically, Black men under 50 (63%) are more likely than both Black men (55%) and Black women (53%) 50 and older to say they have heard the idea that the government promotes birth control and abortion to manage the size of the Black population.

By family income and party

While Black adults do not differ on this question by education, family income makes a difference. About six-in-ten Black adults with lower incomes (61%) say they have heard the idea that the government promotes birth control and abortion to keep the Black population small. This is larger than the share of Black adults with high incomes (52%) who say the same.

And like their familiarity with ideas about single Black mothers, Black Republicans (71%) are more likely than Black Democrats (56%) to have heard ideas about reproductive techniques being used to keep the Black population small.

Some Black Americans believe racial conspiracy theories about abortion and birth control

About half of Black Americans (51%) say the government promoting birth control and abortion to keep the Black population small is something that happens today. Smaller shares say this happened in the past but no longer happens today, or that it never happened at all (21% each).

By gender

Although younger Black men were more likely than older Black men and woman to have heard this conspiracy theory about reproductive health, younger Black women stand out in their belief that this happens today. Some 57% of Black women under 50 say government promotion of birth control and abortion to manage the size of the Black population is happening today. This is more than the share of Black men and women 50 and older (48% each) who say the same. Half of Black men under 50 say this happens today.

By education and family income

Once again, Black adults with the most education and highest incomes are least likely to believe racial conspiracy theories about reproductive health. Only 44% of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher say the government today is promoting birth control and abortion to manage the size of the Black population. Larger shares of Black adults with some college or a high school diploma or less education say the same (53% each). And Black adults with lower incomes (58%) are most likely among income groups to say that the government promotes reproductive health techniques to control the Black population today.

By region, community type and party

Black Americans living in the Midwest (57%) are more likely than those in every other region of the U.S. to say that the government is now promoting birth control and abortion to manage the size of the Black population. Black adults who live in rural (56%) and urban (54%) areas are more likely than those in the suburbs (46%) to say the same.

And like their belief in racial conspiracy theories about parenthood, Black Republicans (63%) are more likely than Black Democrats (49%) to say that government promotion of birth control and abortion to manage the Black population is something that happens today.

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