Arnold Kling  

Race, Marriage, and Poverty

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Walter Williams writes,


There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.

Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor.

What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage.


I tend to think that race is over-rated as a predictive factor in America. For instance, in education, they always talk about the "black-white test gap." They never talk about the "unwed mother vs. two-parent test gap." I'll bet that the latter is larger.

UPDATE: Once again, commenters cite better posts than this one. See Jason Malloy. That long post has many interesting links, including some recent thoughts of Flynn on the Flynn Effect. He thinks it's more a matter of average people getting better at answering some types of questions on IQ tests, not an indicator of improving general intelligence.


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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution



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The author at Maggie's Farm in a related article titled More Good Monday Links writes:
    The micro-celebrity and the world of image: StumblingRace, marriage, and poverty. Econlog. What he said.Turn-around in Baghdad. Jules. The battle is over, except for some cleaning up, and the mopping up of the tears of the Dems - and of Al Qaida.Just... [Tracked on November 5, 2007 10:39 AM]
COMMENTS (14 to date)
jb writes:

Duh! That's because people choose when and how to procreate, but they can't choose their race.

It's a lot harder to stir up outrage/subscriptions/links/etc over irresponsible behavior than it is over "bad fate"

Also, I suspect that two parent families would almost always fare better on income gaps than single-parent families because of division of labor and specialization benefits. If it were possible, I suspect 3 and 4 and 10 person families would be incredibly "profitable" for the children of same.

Alas, we call those things communes, and our government burns them to the ground with the kids inside, negating the benefit.

Heather writes:

I would agree that race is overrated, however it does beg the question, what is the difference between the races that accounts for the difference in single parent households? It seems to me that at the very least, people self select into groups with different social norms that encourage or discourage keeping a family intact. Are they self selecting based on race, or on something else entirely?

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John:

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Mark Seecof writes:

There's also a cause-and-effect problem here. You could round up unmarried people at gunpoint and force them to wed, but would that get them jobs?

Really, wedded bliss is a bit like a Toyota Highlander. It's a reward for leading a productive life as well as a tool to help you keep doing so.

I think on the evidence we could boost marriage rates by boosting employment, but not so much the other way 'round.

Steve Sailer writes:

But why has the black illegitimacy rate always been much higher than the white rate? There's a Black Blank Slate theory that African-Americans brought nothing from Africa with them, but that's not true. Economists need to study up on the anthropology of family structures. An anthropologist recently pointed out to me:

"In Sub-Saharan Africa (henceforth just 'Africa'), for example, family establishments commonly take the form of separate households for each of a man's co-wives (and her children), with husbands moving between wives' households, and women having considerable autonomy, and not much day-to-day economic support. Polygyny is certainly found outside of Africa, but this particular household arrangement is vastly more common in Africa than anywhere else. African societies also generally have strong unilineal descent groups, and great religious power vested in elders and ancestors. (This actually converges somewhat with China, but economics and male-female relations are very different there). Marriage is stronger in some parts of Africa than others, but is generally seen as a device for expanding the lineage, rather than as an economic and emotional union. Within Africa. the major exceptions to these generalizations are often genetic outliers as well: Bushmen, Pygmies, and Ethiopians.

"Africans on the other side of the Atlantic are an interesting comparison. In some ways they look very African: marriage is not very strong among blacks in the New World. But in other respects, New World blacks look Western: African lineage systems and ancestor worship didn't survive the Middle Passage and slavery (except among scattered maroon (i.e. runaway slave) groups in places like Surinam). One result is that, although blacks in the US, the Caribbean, and Brazil have all sorts of social problems related in part to family structure, tribalism is really not the issue that it is in Africa."

TGGP writes:

For instance, in education, they always talk about the "black-white test gap." They never talk about the "unwed mother vs. two-parent test gap." I'll bet that the latter is larger.
Wrong.
"of all the demographic factors we studied in relation to school performance, ethnicity was the most important. . . . In terms of school achievement, it is more advantageous to be Asian than to be wealthy, to have non-divorced parents, or to have a mother who is able to stay at home full time."

Steve, I don't think the illegitimacy rate was always so high. I'll have to check Thomas Sowell's BR&WL again.

egf writes:

William Galston, once an assistant to President Clinton, put the matter simply. To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old. Only 8% of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79% will be poor.

Unfortunately, that doesn't explain the entire B-W gap. From Abigail Thernstrom's America in Black and White:

"One of the most disturbing, I think perhaps the most disturbing fact in our whole book is that black students coming from families earning over 70,000 are doing worse on their SATS, on average--it's always on average--than white students from families in the lowest income group. You want to cry hearing that figure. I mean, it's so terrible."

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/sats/interviews/thernstrom.html

Barkley Rosser writes:

egf is right, and more to the point, Williams is way overstating how few people have commented on or noted this matter. It has been a well known and widely commented on staple from those who actually study poverty for decades.

What it does indicate is that another big part of the problem is continuing gender discrimination and the weak support for unwed mothers from society more generally in the US, especially compared to many other high income countries. So, there are racial differences, but these other factors are coming in here to affect this.

Of course, most of the readers of this blog would not support the kinds of policies that would make like easier for unwed mothers, such as expanded government support for child care centers.

Steve Sailer writes:

You can look up how big the IQ gap is among white unwed and white wed mothers in The Bell Curve, based on the 13,000 people in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. The U.S. military paid to give the military's IQ test, the AFQT to all of them in 1980, and their lives have been tracked ever since.

Steve Sailer writes:

In general, Arnold, absent strong selection pressure, race/ethnicity turns out to be a hugely powerful predictor of performance for large groups of people on all sorts of different measures all over the world -- relative to almost all other independent variables. Life is very, very complicated and there are an endless number of factors involved, but race is one of those few things, like IQ, that are both easy to measure and pervasively correlated with important real-world outcomes.

It's hard to get across just how pervasive this finding is unless you do the work and actually look at countless numbers, especially when the people who have done the work routinely get demonized for it (e.g., James Watson).

But, that's the way it is.

Chris Collins writes:

Of course there is going to be gap between married person and un married person income. A married person should have more income for there home because they have two people working in most cases. But you maybe right the reason black people incomes are a lot low in some segment is because black tend not to get or stay married. I think the marriage thing has a lot ore to do with it then race.

jcf writes:

Here's an article from The Economist that may be of interest to those discussing this post. Here's the title and lead in to the article with the link below.

Marriage in America
The frayed knot

As the divorce rate plummets at the top of American society and rises at the bottom, the widening “marriage gap” is breeding inequality

http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9218127

Floccina writes:

Money is like glue in marriage. See Hillary Clinton! Do you think if Bill Clinton made $15,000/ year as a laborer she would have stuck with him?

“If I was a carpenter and you where a lady would you have married me?”

So we need a way to separate causation. Wealth keeps marriages together but intact marriages help to accumulate wealth.

As far as black white gaps on marriage and income go, let’s just say that on average blacks live differently form whites on the average. So what we should just leave people to themselves. On average they may be happier with less marriage and less money. Should we try to get whites like Hillary Clinton to throw the bum out? If not then why do we worry the other way? Might it be a bit of paternalism? One the other hand I think that Walter Williams is trying to get use to stop undermining marriage, to which I would agree. Lets not support or undermining marriage. If people act like they would rather be poor than work hard and put up with crap fine.

920222421 writes:

I believe this has been a recurring study—the correlation between children with fathers and children without and their performance in school. It is hard for me to comment only because I do come from a home with both father and mother. I’m a student living in a dorm set aside just for Honors students. I think one could get a good idea of this study by just polling this residence hall. I do not really know how the results would pan out, but I am tempted to say that it would be down the middle. I think we all come from diverse backgrounds depending not only on whether or not our parents are still together but also having parents from different parts of the world.

I think that descent really affects one’s outlook on life, effort in school, and also work ethic. A fellow student and I were just talking about this because his father is from Italy—my father is from Iran. Both have instilled in both of us those three things listed. So I guess I’m touching on the race aspect more than anything. However, from personal experience, it does have a big impact! 920222421

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