Deirdre Bloome. "Racial Inequality in Family Income: A Demographic Approach"

Monday, November 18, 2013 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

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Racial Inequality in Family Income: A Demographic Approach

Racial disparity in family income has remained remarkably stable over the past 40 years in the United States despite major legal and social reforms. In 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights struggle, African Americans’ median family income was 60% as large as whites’ median family income. In 2008, it was still less than two-thirds as large. I examine whether recent trends in family income inequality between African Americans and whites are better characterized by the endurance of existing forms of disadvantage (via intergenerational persistence) or shifting forms of disadvantage (due to contemporary reorganizations of the family and labor market). I use population projection and decomposition methods to study these trends, drawing on data from the Current Population Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Census and National Vital Statistics. I find that racial inequality trends are better characterized by contemporary reorganization than by intergenerational persistence. Inequality persists partly because low-income African-American children are likely to remain low-income as adults. However, inequality is also maintained by discontinuity across generations, as African Americans are particularly likely to be downwardly mobile out of the middle class. As the share of single-parent families rose, African Americans increasingly fell into low-income demographic groups. Progress in how much workers earn was partially offset by changes in how they pool their earnings in families. Racially-disparate trends in marriage reorganized the form of racial inequality and family incomes did not fully reflect labor-market gains. Economic trends were equalizing while demographic trends were disequalizing, generating on net very slow progress toward racial equality. 

Deirdre Bloome is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University and a graduate student fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her research interests include economic and racial stratification, social mobility, family demography, social policy, and statistical methodology. Her dissertation explores the relationships between inequality and mobility in the United States using a demographic approach. She holds an AM in statistics from Harvard University and a certificate in demography from Princeton University's Office of Population Research. Her research has been supported by organizations including the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program, the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science.