Legacies of Race

Kevin Lewis

December 05, 2023

The Rising Importance of Stock-Linked Assets in the Black-White Wealth Gap
Ken-Hou Lin & Guillermo Dominguez
Demography, forthcoming 


Studies have examined the racial disparities in household characteristics, homeownership, and familial transfer as primary drivers of the Black-White wealth gap in the United States. This study assesses the importance of stock-linked assets in generating wealth inequality. As financial assets become a growing component of household portfolios, the Black-White wealth gap is increasingly associated with the racial disparity in stock-linked assets. Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this study shows that the contribution of stock-linked assets to the Black-White wealth gap has expanded in both absolute and relative terms, surpassing those of homeownership and business equity. Furthermore, a substantial disparity in financial wealth exists even for otherwise similar Black and White households. Although the disparity is larger among those with more economic resources, a gap remains among those with less. Lastly, our analysis shows that the combination of lower ownership levels and lower returns on financial wealth among Black households could account for a quarter of the Black-White wealth accumulation gap, net of differences in current net worth and household characteristics. Our findings suggest that considering financial assets is critical for understanding contemporary racial wealth inequality.

What Fraction of Antebellum US National Product did the Enslaved Produce?
Paul Rhode
Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming 


This article evaluates the high-profile claim that enslaved African-Americans produced over 50 percent of US national product in the pre-Civil War period. The accounting exercise shows the fraction was closer to (and indeed likely slightly below) the share of the population, that is, about 12.6 percent in 1860. The enslaved population had higher rates of labor force participation, but they were also forced to work in sectors -- agriculture and domestic service -- with below average output per worker. The economic surplus generated by the enslaved was due chiefly to the low value of the very basic consumption bundle provided rather than to exceptionally high values of production per capita.

Patterns and Life Course Determinants of Black-White Disparities in Biological Age Acceleration: A Decomposition Analysis
Courtney Boen et al.
Demography, forthcoming 


Despite the prominence of the weathering hypothesis as a mechanism underlying racialized inequities in morbidity and mortality, the life course social and economic determinants of Black-White disparities in biological aging remain inadequately understood. This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (n = 6,782), multivariable regression, and Kitagawa-Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition to assess Black–White disparities across three measures of biological aging: PhenoAge, Klemera-Doubal biological age, and homeostatic dysregulation. It also examines the contributions of racial differences in life course socioeconomic and stress exposures and vulnerability to those exposures to Black-White disparities in biological aging. Across the outcomes, Black individuals exhibited accelerated biological aging relative to White individuals. Decomposition analyses showed that racial differences in life course socioeconomic exposures accounted for roughly 27% to 55% of the racial disparities across the biological aging measures, and racial disparities in psychosocial stress exposure explained 7% to 11%. We found less evidence that heterogeneity in the associations between social exposures and biological aging by race contributed substantially to Black-White disparities in biological aging. Our findings offer new evidence of the role of life course social exposures in generating disparities in biological aging, with implications for understanding age patterns of morbidity and mortality risks.

Heterogeneous and Racialized Impacts of State Incarceration Policies on Birth Outcomes in the U.S.
Courtney Boen et al.
NBER Working Paper, November 2023 


While state incarceration policies have received much attention in research on the causes of mass incarceration in the U.S., their roles in shaping population health and health disparities remain largely unknown. We examine the impacts of two signature state incarceration policies adopted during the “tough on crime” era of the 1990s -- three strikes and truth in sentencing -- on Black and White birth outcomes. Using a difference-in-differences event study research design that models the dynamic impacts of these policies over time, we find that these policies had opposing effects on birth outcomes. We find that birth weight outcomes -- including mean birth weight and low birth weight -- for Black infants worsened markedly in the year three strikes policies were adopted. By contrast, birth outcomes for Black and White infants gradually improved after truth in sentencing policies were adopted. The discordant findings point to distinct, countervailing mechanisms by which sentencing policies can affect population health. We provide suggestive evidence that three strikes policies adversely impacted Black birth outcomes through affective mechanisms, by inducing highly racialized, stigmatizing public discourse around the time of policy adoption, while truth in sentencing likely impacted birth outcomes via material mechanisms, namely gradual reductions in community incarceration and crime rates. Altogether, these findings point to the need to further interrogate state criminal legal system policies for their impacts on population health, considering whether, how, and for whom these policies result in health impacts.

A Culture of White Violence: The Enduring Impact of Slavery on Contemporary Interracial Killings
Jonathan Reid
Social Problems, forthcoming 


While the literature has documented various factors influencing the geographic distribution of interracial homicide, little is known about the role of historical antecedents. This article deepens our understanding of interracial homicide by investigating the relationship between slavery and contemporary interracial killings in the American South. The study draws on historical accounts of race-making and Black dehumanization to argue that slavery provided a fertile backdrop for the emergence of a culture of White interracial violence. Slavery’s legacy in this regard is expected to influence contemporary rates of White interracial homicide but not impact other racial homicide outcomes. Findings from county-level negative binomial regression models support these predictions, revealing a significant association between the historical legacy of slavery and higher rates of White-on-Black Southern killings. Conversely, slavery does not influence other race-specific homicide patterns, including Black-on-White, White-on-White, and Black-on-Black homicide.

Deeper Roots: Historical Causal Inference and the Political Legacy of Slavery
David Bateman & Eric Schickler
Journal of Historical Political Economy, May 2023, Pages 95-124 


The legacies of slavery have shaped nearly all aspects of American politics. Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen's Deep Roots: How Slavery Shapes Southern Politics deploys sophisticated methods of causal inference to empirically identify one of these legacies: the enduring impact that slavery has had on white southerners' racial attitudes. An important part of their causal argument is the role of the Civil War and Reconstruction, which they argue was the critical juncture when the distribution of white racial attitudes in the South began to diverge based on the prior pervasiveness of slavery. Before the secession crisis, they claim, white racial attitudes were unrelated to the level of enslavement within the South. We reconsider the evidence for this antebellum "homogeneity in racial attitudes" claim, which is critical to Acharya et al.'s strategy for identifying the causal effect of slavery and for their broader historical argument. Using multiple sources of data from different moments in southern history, we find that the pervasiveness of slavery was a systematically strong predictor of voting on slavery, secession, and the rights extended to free persons of color well-before the Civil War. Our findings suggest that there was no discrete moment at which the connection between the geographic pervasiveness of slavery and revealed commitments to white supremacy was established, raising questions about the causal identification strategies used by the authors. More generally, the findings point to some unappreciated limitations of design-based approaches when assignment to treatment is the product of a slow-moving complex historical process.


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