Jul 14, 2020 - Economy & Business

The myth of closing the racial wealth gap through "stronger families"

Reproduced from Zaw e. al, 2017, "Women, Race & Wealth"; Note: "With children" refers to households with children under 18; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Zaw e. al, 2017, "Women, Race & Wealth"; Note: "With children" refers to households with children under 18; Chart: Axios Visuals

In proposing fixes for the racial wealth gap in the U.S., public figures can conflate the effects of inequality with causes, researchers say.

What's happening: Often the increased rate of Black single motherhood or "Black family disorganization" is referenced as a reason for the gap in wealth accumulation.

  • "These explanations tend to confuse consequence and cause and are largely driven by claims that if Blacks change their behavior, they would see marked increases in wealth accumulation," note researchers from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity in 2018.
  • "This is a dangerous narrative that is steeped in racist stereotypes."

Between the lines: "Compared to both white and Hispanic women, Black women marry later in life, are less likely to marry at all, and have higher rates of marital instability," a 2015 study posted to the National Institutes of Health library finds.

  • And marriage clearly helps increase family wealth. Data show that married Black women have substantially more wealth than single Black women.

Yes, but: "[W]ealth differences among white and Black women persist despite type of family structure, marriage, age, or education," the DuBois Cook Center's study finds, tracking data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

  • "In fact, single white women with kids have the same amount of wealth as single Black women without kids."
  • "The median single-parent white family has more than twice the wealth of the median Black or Latino family with two parents."

The state of play: The racial wealth gap among women and families is upheld in large part by intergenerational transfers "like financing a college education, providing help with the down payment on a house and other gifts to seed asset accumulation," per the DuBois Cook Center.

The bottom line: "[N]either marriage, a college education nor a lifetime of work provides the answer for equalizing opportunity between Black and white women."

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