Racial Past and Present

Kevin Lewis

May 16, 2024

Monumental Changes: Confederate Symbol Removals and Racial Attitudes in the United States
Roxanne Rahnama
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Waves of activism following the mass murder of Black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 resulted in the removal of hundreds of Confederate symbols across the South and the rest of the United States. What effect, if any, did these removals have on people's attitudes and behavior regarding race and racial inequality? Using difference-in-differences strategies with panels of both individuals and geographic units, I find that the removal of Confederate symbols decreased racial resentment, increased support for affirmative action and warm feelings toward Blacks, and decreased anti-Black hate crimes. These effects were strongest at the most local level at which removals took place and decayed with greater distance from removal sites. These findings are congruent with an account that local residents interpreted removals of Confederate symbols as a shift toward liberalizing social norms regarding race.

Destruction, Policy, and the Evolving Consequences of Washington, DC's 1968 Civil Disturbance
Leah Brooks, Jonathan Rose & Stan Veuger
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming

We study the aftermath of the 1968 Washington, DC civil disturbance to illuminate the mechanisms that drive urban redevelopment in the presence of low demand and racial tension. Using a within-block identification strategy, we show that destruction caused lots to remain vacant for the next thirty years and only recently converge in terms of structure value. The city acted to preclude for-profit land owners from leaving land vacant until demand conditions improved by purchasing nearly half of all properties in damaged neighborhoods. Despite this and other steps, the city had limited success in speeding up redevelopment.

Effort Traps: Socially Structured Striving and the Reproduction of Disadvantage
Tom Wooten
American Journal of Sociology, forthcoming

It seems intuitive that the more effort one exerts to escape poverty, the likelier one should be to succeed. Findings from a two-year ethnographic study of low-income Black men transitioning to adulthood challenge this intuition. Participants in the study encountered two-tiered effort traps. First, schools and life circumstances regularly primed participants to overexert themselves in pursuit of escaping poverty and meeting long-term goals. Second, participants' resulting efforts proved not merely futile but counterproductive, keeping them committed to untenable workloads past a point of no return and causing exhaustion and failure. Effort traps are a previously unrecognized mechanism of social reproduction: a structured way that ambitious young people from low-income families can be set up to fail, not despite their best efforts but precisely because of them.

Early Predictors of Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice Involvement
Andrew Jordan, Ezra Karger & Derek Neal
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

We examine ten cohorts of male eighth graders in public schools in Chicago, IL: 1995-2004. We find that composite measures of math achievement, reading achievement, and neighborhood SES during elementary school are strong predictors of future felony arraignment and incarceration, even among students of the same race who attend the same school. Nonetheless, elementary achievement and early SES account for less than half of Black versus non-Black disparities in these outcomes. Value-added measures of eighth grade school quality suggest that schools may reduce criminal justice involvement by better preparing students for the non-cognitive demands of high school.

Over-educated or Overly Invested in Education? The Role of Educational Commitment in Asian American Socioeconomic Attainment
Jiannbin Lee Shiao
Race and Social Problems, June 2024, Pages 167-184

Recent scholarship has attributed Asian American socioeconomic attainment to the exceptional selectivity of Asian immigrants since 1965 while also characterizing the second generation as limited by a glass ceiling. Other scholars are critical of the hyper-selectivity thesis for minimizing the role of Asian-family commitment to education and exaggerating Asian disadvantage in the labor market. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, I explore how two components of cultural capital (parental educational expectations and adolescent efforts at schoolwork) affect respondents' high-school grade point average (GPA), their degree attainment by adulthood, and their incomes in adulthood. I find partial support for the expected mechanisms in the debate, identify GPA as a critical mediator between family background and racial disparities in adulthood, and show that academic performance (GPA) is a "bottleneck" for the relative advantages of the Asian second-generation in both education and the labor market, particularly for Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans. Exploratory analysis also suggests an important role for cross-racial social capital. My conclusion discusses the implications of my findings for advancing the hyper-selectivity debate and rethinking the racial status of Asian Americans in the sociology of race/ethnicity. If Asian Americans represent a "model" to other minorities, it may not only be for their commitment to education but also for their relative acceptance by Whites in the critically important socioeconomic domain.

Inequality and Racial Backlash: Evidence from the Reconstruction Era and the Freedmen's Bureau
Eric Chyn, Kareem Haggag & Bryan Stuart
NBER Working Paper, April 2024

How do majority groups respond to a narrowing of inequality in racially polarized environments? We study this question by examining the effects of the Freedmen's Bureau, an agency created after the U.S. Civil War to provide aid to former slaves and launch institutional reform in the South. We use new historical records and an event study approach to estimate impacts of the Bureau on political economy in the South. In the decade immediately after the war, counties with Bureau field offices had reduced vote shares for Democrats, the major political party that previously championed slavery and opposed Black civil rights during Reconstruction. In the longer-run, we find evidence of backlash in the form of higher Democratic vote shares and increases in several forms of racial violence, including lynchings and attacks against Black schools. This backlash extends through the twentieth century, when we find that counties that once had a Bureau field office have higher rates of second-wave and third-wave Ku Klux Klan activity and lower rates of intergenerational economic mobility. Overall, our results suggest that the initial impacts of the Freedmen's Bureau stimulated countervailing responses by White majorities who sought to offset social progress of Black Americans.

Race, immunity, and lifespan: Unraveling the effect of early-life exposure to malaria risk on lifespan
Sok Chul Hong & Inhyuk Hwang
Economics & Human Biology, August 2024

We investigate a historical experience to measure the long-term effect of malaria on lifespan among infected survivors and identify a factor that mitigates malaria's effect. Using a sample of Union Army veterans born during the mid-19th century and their lifetime records, we show that exposure to high risk of malaria at birth or in early life substantially shortened their lifespan. The legacy of exposure to malaria is robust while controlling for lifetime socioeconomic and health conditions, fixed effects, and considering selection bias. Additionally, we include the US Colored Troops sample of black veterans to analyze racial differences in the effect of malaria exposure on lifespan. Exposure to malaria did not lead to a shorter lifespan among black veterans. Evidence suggests that genetic immunity to malaria in black veterans might contribute this heterogeneity.


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