Tag Archives: black women

Recent reads: Brazil, China, blogging and the Black middle class

In the last few days I tweeted a handful of really interesting articles that might be of interest to Family Inequality readers:

In the Washington PostPlummeting birthrates in Brazil

The Washington Post reports on Brazil’s fall from more than 6 to less then 2 children per woman in the past 50 years:

It’s a good case study for fertility transitions, featuring a combination of common economic and cultural suspects in accelerated sequence.

In the NY TimesPeggy Orenstein on the ideal of gender-free toys

Rather then seek a gender-free ideal, she argues, consider how children’s environments exacerbate or mitigate the differences between them:

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

In SlateMara Hvistendahl on C-sections in China

The tradition of natural childbirth was continued by the training of nurses and midwives during the early years of Chinese socialism. Now, the one-child policy combines with the medicalization of childbirth – and the attendant profit motive – to tip the scales toward C-sections. She writes:

For modern expectant women, by contrast, the combination of the one-child policy and feverish economic development has yielded an environment in which they—and the in-laws and husbands who have so much riding on a single birth—fear any potential misstep.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education: Andrea Doucet on scholar-bloggers

As an established scholar who has taken to blogging, she confronts the difference between slow-and-deep versus fast-and-thin, how it affects her reading as well as her writing, and her self image as a scholar. She is “convinced that blogging can and should be part of scholarly life,” but it comes with risks:

At its best, a blog post can move and inspire in what seems like the blink of an eye. The combination of brevity, focused vision, and engaging language creates a storytelling style that could make a scholar green with envy. But blogs also generally call for a form of reading that verges on consumption.

On CNN.com: Kris Marsh on the Black middle class

Kris – a friend and colleague – argues that the Black middle class is being transformed by the growing presence of single adults without children, the “Love Jones Cohort.” Taking this group seriously undermines the narrative of the “failure” of marriage in Black America.

I propose we embrace the reality of a changing black middle class and start taking a serious look at how the Love Jones Cohort is changing the face of black America, changing how we think about middle class, and changing our understanding of being black in America.

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Employment unequal

The news each month is usually on unemployment rates, weekly filings of new claims, layoffs and new hiring. And the Pew report on widening race/ethnic wealth gaps was eye-opening. But you can take the measure of the recession overall maybe best with the employment rates — how many people have jobs? By that measure, the news is flat-to-down without letup. The Black-White discrepancy in the trends is increasing.

Here is the employment trend for White and Black women, showing that Black women had higher employment rates before the recession, but they’ve fallen more than twice as much as White women’s (a drop of 5.7% versus 2.4% as of June):

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

For men, the gap is bigger and the lines further apart, so I added a ratio line to help show the gap. Black men’s rate has fallen 5.6%, compared with 3.8% for White men:

The Christian Science Monitor has an article reviewing some of the factors that contribute to the unemployment gap for men, including education, incarceration and discrimination. And the Center for American Progress has more detail in this report, which argues that declines in manufacturing and public employment are increasing the Black-White gaps especially in this recession.

What the broader statistics don’t show as well is the tenuousness of the jobs Black workers have compared to Whites generally – working for weaker firms, in more segregated jobs, as a result of a racialized sorting process, which put them at higher risk of job loss in a recession (even without discrimination in firing decisions, which there is, too).

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Birthweight and infant mortality inequality

Birthweight drives the Black-White gap.

Here’s a look at birthweight patterns and their effects on the difference in infant mortality rates between Black and White children.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control, based on 2007 data, shows the distribution of birthweights and mortality outcomes by the race/ethnicity of mothers. Here is a story in three figures.

1. The infant mortality rate gap is large

In the figures below I focus on White (non-Hispanic), Black (non-Hispanic), and Hispanic. Since White and Hispanic infants have such similar rates, the issue I’m most concerned with is the Black-White gap.

2. Infant mortality rates are drastically affected by birthweight. But at each birthweight the race/ethnic gap is small.

The Black mortality rates are higher among the high-birthweight infants, but there are very few deaths out there (note the log scale, which is necessary to even see those gaps).

3. Black mothers are much more likely to have very-lowbirthweight infants.

Again, because of the log scale, you can see the gaps clearly even though there are very few births at the very low end. Still, 1.8% of Black women’s infants are born below 1,000 grams, where a large portion of infants don’t survive.

So what explains the higher infant mortality rates among Black women’s infants? The overwhelming issue is birthweight. If they had the same mortality rates at each birthweight, I calculate, the gap would close by 10%. But if they had the same birthweight distributions, the gap would close by 88%.

In previous posts, I reported that women who experienced childhood hardships are more likely to have low-birthweight babies. And I described the weathering hypothesis, which suggests delaying first births only improves outcomes for infants if their mothers’ health is not already deteriorating in their 20s, as it more often is with Black women. With this evidence, it is clear that the major problem driving the infant-mortality gap is not care of newborn infants itself, but rather the long-term health of Black women.

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Gloria and her money, analyticized

This isn’t going to help with America’s statistical deficits.

Gloria is the name of a character who appears in some ads for Well Fargo financial advising services. I’m guessing she’s a little shy of 66 years old — partly because of the nature of her family situation, and also because the last spike in popularity for the name Gloria was in 1945, when it reached #23 among American girls born.

Anyway, she’s standing on her deck overlooking the beach. She’s thinking of a pie chart in which expenses (son’s medical school; trip to Paris), time (with grandson; volunteering), and lifelong goals (run a marathon) somehow add up to 100% of the pie.

That image is part of a dynamic montage. But if you poke around the website you can find a flyer version of Gloria’s story. For some reason her mental pie chart has changed now, with an additional pie slice added for “remodel kitchen.” Naturally, the rest of the slices are smaller now.

The copy makes no mention of her family situation, but speaks only of “getting you to your dreams.” Is she single? Black women do have lower marriage rates than average, but more than 80% of Black women in her generation have been married. And she has a son who’s going to medical school, apparently one of her dreams.

The story becomes more clear (even though the picture isn’t) after checking Gloria’s appearance in my print edition of the New Yorker. Now she’s dropped the kitchen remodel from her dreams and added “care for parents.”

But what of a husband? In the New Yorker copy we finally read: “Between paying for her son’s medical school, working, and volunteering, Gloria has a lot going on in her life. But she knows someday it will be just her and her husband, James. With the help of their Financial Advisor, they are preparing for all the things they want to do.”

Now it’s just strange that her husband — who will someday be all there is in her pie chart — is not reflected in her minds-eye chart at all. It’s especially odd given that her life just got more complicated — with not only a grandson she spends time with and a son she supports, but also parents she cares for. (She no longer needs to run a marathon to impress me!)

This is either a very sophisticated kind of marketing — in which different marks in different contexts are fed highly specialized images and narratives — or it’s just a sloppy and random packaging of stereotypical assumptions.

Is this an odd juxtaposition of selfless dreams (volunteer, grandson, care for parents) and self-centered aims (travel, remodel) — or just a well-balanced retirement?

Regardless, it represents the sad degradation of our numeracy, where things are just randomly turned into charts, generating a vague sense of precision for no substantial reason, just tipping us a little further toward noise, away from signal.

Here’s another example, from that busy section of front matter in the New York Times magazine, in which the size of the circles may represent the number of times each story has been blogged. But what does the overlap in the circles represent? Nothing. It’s just there to justify labeling the figure “analytics.” The image provides no more information than a five-item bullet list.

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Quick update: Black-White women’s employment gap

The new employment realities.

Nancy Folbre’s good new post on the Super Sad True Jobs Story reminded me that I haven’t updated the Black-White women’s employment gap graph since last fall.

As you may recall, before the recession Black women had higher employment rates than White women. Since the summer of 2009 that’s been reversed, and has stayed that way for almost two years. Here’s the graph (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

I can’t face the prospect of making up terms to match Mancession and Hecovery for this race pattern. But you get the idea.

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Weathering health inequality

A hypothesis with legs.

In the early 1990s, Arline Geronimus proposed a simple yet profound explanation for why Black women on average were having children at younger ages than White women, which she called the “weathering hypothesis.”

It goes like this: Racial inequality takes a cumulative toll on Black women, increasing the chance they will have health problems at younger ages. So, early childbearing might pose health risks for White women, but for Black women it makes more sense to start earlier — before their health declines. Although it’s hard to measure the motivations of people having children, her suggestion was that early childbearing reflected a combination of cumulative cultural wisdom and individual adaptation (for example, reacting to the health problems experienced by their 40-something mothers).

She showed the pattern nicely with data from Michigan in 1989, in which the percentage of first births that were “very low birthweight,” increased with the age of Black women, but decreased for White women, through their twenties:


Source: My graph from Geronimus (1996).

If the hypothesis is correct, she reasoned, the pattern would be stronger among poor women, who experience more health problems, which is also what she found.

The most recent national data, for 2007, continue to show Black women have their first children, on average, younger than White women: age 22.7 versus 26.0. And the infant mortality rates, by mothers’ age, also show the lowest risk for White women at older ages than for Black women:

Source: My graph from CDC data.

Note that, for White women, mothers have children in the early thirties face less than half the infant-mortality risk of those having children as teenagers. For Black women, waiting till their lowest-risk age — the late 20s — yields only a 14% reduction in infant mortality risk. So it looks like waiting is much more important for White women, at least as far as health conditions are concerned.

The implications are profound. If you base your perceptions on the White pattern, it makes sense to discourage early childbearing for health reasons. But if you look at the Black pattern, it becomes more important to try to improve health problems at early ages — and all the things that contribute to them — rather than (or in addition to) trying to delay first births.

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More marriage predictions gone awry

If the nuts and bolts of demography aren’t for you, may as well save yourself and move on to something else. On the other hand, if you do like this maybe you should consider this whole demography thing for yourself.

Following up my previous rumination on marriage projections, I’ve noticed that another landmark prediction from the past underestimated the eventual number of marriages among Black women Baby Boomers. Paul Glick, a famous Census demographer, predicted in 1984, based on 1980 data, that 75% of Black women born in the early 1950s would eventually marry. Among those who were still alive in March 2010, however, 83% were ever-married. Since they are now only in their 50s and 60s, another 5% or so may still marry.

A 1992 Census report by Arthur Norton and Louisa Miller (which someone thankfully took the trouble to preserve on the website), reiterated Glick’s projections for the same group of women. Noting that, as of 1990, 75% of Black women in their late 30s had ever married, they wrote:

“Assuming that the small amount of first marriages that have taken place after age 40, both among Black and White women, will remain the pattern for the near future, less than 3 out of 4 Black women will eventually marry, compared with at least 9 out of 10 White women.”

In fact, that 75% mark has now been reached by Black women born in the first half of the 1960s, who were the next cohort coming along as Norton and Miller wrote.

That might not seem like such a big error — some 10 percentage points — but  the alarm that was sounded at the time was quite extreme, with the likes of David Popenoe (in 1993) referring to a crisis on the scale of “‘end-of-the-line’ family change.” Revising that number from 75% up to 85% might mean they should have cut the alarm volume in half.

Incidentally, that Glick article has been cited 117 times, and no one appears to have pointed out that the Black projection didn’t quite pan out. It’s asking a lot to hold people to their predictions from 1984 all the way forward to 2010. So this isn’t about blame, but about correcting the past and maybe improving predictions for the future.

The Norton and Miller report suggests that the problem lies in underestimating later-life first marriages, especially among Black women. Another, grimmer possibility is that never-married Black women are substantially more likely to die young than those who are married, which would lead to an increase in ever-married women living at older ages, even if there are on more marriages.

So, my two questions — for someone who knows, or for someone who wants to do some new research — are: what’s up with later-life marriage among Black women? And, does mortality vary a lot by marital status among middle-aged Black women? And, since this is a blog post rather than traditional, boring, peer-reviewed academia, we’ll need that answer within a couple hours.

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