Tag Archives: nytimes

White children are 2.7-times more likely than Black children to live with a parent who has a PhD

For a reflection Amy Harmon was working on, a followup to her article on the experience of Black mathematicians in American academia, I took a shot at the question: How many children have parents with PhDs?

The result was the highlighted passage (17 words and a link!) in her piece:

[all the racial biases that contribute to Black underrepresentation include] the well-documented racial disparities in public-school resources, the selection of students for gifted programs — and the fact that having a parent with a Ph.D. is helpful to getting one in math, while black children are less than half as likely as white children to live with such a parent.

To get there: I used data from the U.S. Census Bureau via IPUMS.org: The 1990 5% Public Use Microdata Sample (decennial census); and the 2000, 2010, and 2017 American Community Surveys.

I coded race/ethnicity into four mutually-exclusive categories: Single-race White, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander (API); and Hispanic (including those of any race). I dropped from the analysis non-Hispanic children with multiple races reported, and American Indian / Alaska Natives (for whom about 0.5 percent lived with a PhD parent in 2017).

IPUMS made a tool that attaches values of parents’ variables to children with whom they share a household. I used that to calculate the highest level of education of each child’s coresident parents. In the Census data, children may have up to two parents present (which may be of the same sex in 2010 and 2017). Children living with no parent in the household were not included.

This let me calculate the percentage of children living (at the moment of the survey) with one or more parents who had a PhD. For each of the four groups the percentage of children living with a parent who has a PhD roughly doubled between 1990 and 2017. API children had the highest chance of living with a PhD parent, reaching 6.8 percent in 2017. The percentages for the other groups were: Whites, 2.7 percent; Blacks, 1.0 percent; and Hispanics, 0.7 percent:


The 2.7% for White children, versus, 1.0% for Black children, is the basis for her statement above.

Details (including the whole parents’ education distribution), data, codebook, and code, are available on the Open Science Framework at: https://osf.io/ry3zt/ under CC-BY 4.0 license.

Math bias

Both of Amy’s pieces are important reading for academics in many disciplines, including sociology, to reflect on the experience of Black colleagues in the environments we inherit and reproduce.

With regard to math, Amy points out that Black exclusion is not just about denying economic opportunity, it’s also about denying the public the benefits of all the lost Black math talents — and about denying Black potential mathematicians the joy and satisfaction of a passion for math realized.

As Daniel Zaharopol, the director of a program for mathematically talented low-income middle-school students, put it when I interviewed him for a 2017 article: “Math is beautiful, and being a part of that should not be limited to just some people.”

And Amy makes a good case that math bias and its outcomes contribute directly to racism much more broadly:

Some misguided people claim that there are not many black research mathematicians because African-Americans are not as intelligent as other races. These people, whom I have reported on for other stories in recent months, almost invariably use mathematical accomplishment as their yardstick for intelligence. They note that no individuals of African descent have won the Fields Medal, math’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. They lack any genetic evidence to explain the gap in average I.Q. scores between white and black Americans that they cite as the basis of their belief, or reason to think that a genetic trait would be impervious to social or educational intervention, or that high I.Q. is key to math ability, which Timothy Gowers, a 1998 Fields medalist, has attributed largely to “the capacity to become obsessed with a math problem.”

But I have been reporting on these topics for several years, and I am acutely aware that math prowess factors heavily into the popular conception of intelligence. There’s a vicious cycle at work: The lack of African-American representation in math can end up feeding pernicious biases, which in turn add to the many obstacles mathematically talented minorities face. Which was one more reason it seemed especially important to hold up to the light all the racial biases that contribute to that underrepresentation.

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What victory looks like, or not

Two columns in today’s NYTimes on what victory looks like, or not.

Maureen Dowd is outraged that Chief Justice John Roberts thinks the gays have already won. She points out that homosexuality is still not a protected category federally (that is, you can legally fire someone because they’re ugly, gay, or underperforming; but not because they’re Black, female, or disabled). It was an outrageous moment in the oral arguments when Roberts told Edie Windsor’s lawyer that “political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.”

This was not idle mean-spiritedness, however. Roberts is arguing against the crucial point that policies against gays and lesbians should be considered under “heightened scrutiny” by the law because they are a systematically oppressed “class.” Here is the exchange (at p. 106 of the transcript):

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You don’t doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same sex-marriage laws in different States is politically powerful, do you?

MS. KAPLAN: With respect to that category, that categorization of the term for purposes of heightened scrutiny, I would, Your Honor. I don’t –



CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.

Besides deciding on marriage equality, the Supreme Court has a chance to establish heightened scrutiny as the principle protecting people from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation. Roberts raises the possibility that the electoral shift on this issue — which is just one aspect of anti-gay oppression, after all — makes that unnecessary.

Ross Douthat, writing on the same page, might agree.

Douthat goes actually further, arguing that the victory of gay marriage actually is destroying the “older marital ideal,” just as its defenders feared. My jaw actually dropped a little when I read this:

Yet for an argument that has persuaded so few, the conservative view has actually had decent predictive power. As the cause of gay marriage has pressed forward, the social link between marriage and childbearing has indeed weakened faster than before. As the public’s shift on the issue has accelerated, so has marriage’s overall decline.

Of course he adds: “Correlations do not, of course, establish causation.” But you can’t unring that bell.

Not only are the gays doing the victory dance over the corpse of traditional marriage, but them and their liberal allies are actually persecuting religion.

A more honest, less triumphalist case for gay marriage would be willing to concede that, yes, there might be some social costs to redefining marriage. It would simply argue that those costs are too diffuse and hard to quantify to outweigh the immediate benefits of recognizing gay couples’ love and commitment.

Such honesty would make social liberals more magnanimous in what looks increasingly like victory, and less likely to hound and harass religious institutions that still want to elevate and defend the older marital ideal.

I guess we might need special protection for the beleaguered religious minority who are just trying to live their lives in traditional peace. Maybe they could use some of the billions of dollars they save from their tax-exempt status to inform us about the benefits of this older marriage ideal, or use their political clout to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from welfare to promoting marriage among the poor.

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