When the map says race but all you can talk about is fatherhood

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:

chetmap

To help make the point, here is their list of local areas at the top and bottom of the map:

chettab

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.

racechettyeffects

Wow!

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:

Wanted: Fathers

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.

 

10 Comments

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10 responses to “When the map says race but all you can talk about is fatherhood

  1. Phil Cowan

    Of course racism and mass incarceration harm Black children, or any children, but don’t you think that one factor in that harm is how those factors interfere with the connection between fathers and their children.

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      • Vijay

        But how do you gt a correlate for discrimination? It is not like a piece of information you can read out of W2.

        I am not understanding the figure correctly. Does it say the highest correlates to gender differences in employment rate are, the following in order:

        1. Racial segregation
        2. Poverty segregation (I do not know what this means; I assume poverty always segregates in a free market)
        3. Fraction < 15 minutes to work
        4. Fraction single moms
        but then
        5. is Fraction married

        What is the meaning of 4 vs. 5? If fraction single and fraction married are both causing the same employment gender differences, why talk about it? Just say, if you are a black man, you are screwed whether you are married or single.

        Harking back to my point, I am not clear how discrimination can be factored in from W-2 data; I thought immigration would have a much larger impact but percentage foreign born seem to have little impact. May be that is because cities with large black populations do not attract immigrants because of lack of jobs to begin with; and that is the problem with a zipcode/W-2 analysis. People work far from where they live an competition comes from other people who live even farther.

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  2. Laura Lindberg

    They used tax records!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Pingback: Why Have Marriage Rates Declined – spottedtoad

  4. assman

    There was vastly more systematic racism in the 1950s so your argument doesn’t make sense.

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