Raj Chetty and colleagues have a new paper showing that “childhood environments play an important role in shaping gender gaps in adulthood.” Essentially, boys from poor or or single parents are doing worse. Also, this gender difference is greater in Black and poor places.
The tricky thing with this data, and I don’t blame Chetty et al. for this, although I would like them to say more about it, is that they don’t know the race of the children. The data are from tax records, which allow you to know the income and marital status of the parents, but not the race. But they know where they grew up. So if they have a strong effect of the racial composition of the county kids grow up in, but they don’t know the race of the kids, you have to figure a big part of that is race of the kids — and by “you” I mean someone who knows anything about America.
So here’s their map of the gender difference in employment rates associated with having poor parents:
To help make the point, here is their list of local areas at the top and bottom of the map:
I hope that is enough to make the point for the demographically literate reader.
I credit them in this paper for at least using percent Black as a variable, which they oddly omitted from a previous analysis. This allows the careful reader to see that this is the most important local-area variable — which makes perfect sense because it is doing the work of the individual data, which doesn’t include race.
It’s important that these examples are all about employment rates. We know that the penalty for being a Black man is especially large for employment, partly because of the direct effects of mass incarceration, but also because of discrimination, some of which is directly related to incarceration and the rest of which may be affected by its aura. This is not something we measure well. Our employment reporting system does not include prison records. Prisoners are excluded from the Current Population Survey, but then included when they are released. So they show up as jobless (mostly) men.
Whenever you see something about how race affects poor men, you have to think hard about what incarceration is doing there — we can’t just rely on the data in front of us and assume it’s telling the whole story, when we know there is a massive influence not captured in the data.
This is exactly what marriage promoters delight in doing. I give just one example, a blog post by the Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves, which — amazingly, astoundingly, remarkably, disappointingly, not surprisingly — discusses the effect of growing up poor and “less-educated” in Baltimore (Baltimore!) without once mentioning race or incarceration. Instead, he goes right to this:
Of course, there is much more to being a man than money: in fact, to define masculinity in breadwinning terms alone is a fatal move. As Barack Obama said on Fathers’ Day seven years ago, fathers are “teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models.” But as he also said, “too many fathers are missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes.” In its poorest neighborhoods, America faces a fathering deficit, one that will make it even harder for the boys of today to make it as men in the new world.
Fatherhood is important. You could investigate a fathering deficit, but if you really cared about it you want to look at in the context of well-known, massive causes of harm to Black boys in America, chief among them racism and mass incarceration.