Talk - Family Tree Branches and Southern Roots: Contemporary Racial Differences in Marriage in the United States, in Intergenerational and Contextual Perspective

Individuals' life outcomes are rooted in their parents' and grandparents' experiences, which, in turn, are rooted in the places where they grew up. In the United States, Black (grand)parents were more likely than White (grand)parents to grow up in the South. This is because of how slavery impacted where Black families lived in the past. Intergenerational theories predict that this racial difference in southern family lineages will shape racial differences in many life outcomes. We test this hypothesis, using marriage as a case study. Linking Panel Study of Income Dynamics' data to external sources, we document that southern family lineages positively predict marriage. We trace the implications of this prediction for marriage inequalities, and we provide some insights into the factors driving this prediction. Within each birth cohort, greater exposure to southern lineage's marriage pressures among Black than White people were associated with smaller Black--White marriage inequalities. Across cohorts, however, millions of Black families moved from the South to other parts of the country, through what became known as the Great Migration. This migration decreased Black people's exposure to southern lineages more than it did for White people. In turn, this larger decrease in exposure among Black people increased Black--White marriage inequalities across cohorts (as fewer Black people were subject to intergenerational marriage pressures). We show how family dynamics channel historical place-based inequalities into contemporary racial inequalities, by combining intergenerational and contextual approaches. Other researchers could employ this combined intergenerational--contextual approach to further illuminate how the past shapes the present. 

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Deirdre Bloome is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and a faculty member at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Her research takes a demographic approach toward investigating how patterns of social inequality are produced and reproduced. Her work focuses on socioeconomic mobility, racial inequality, family demography, and quantitative methods. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Policy and an A.M. in Statistics from Harvard University. Her research has been published in outlets including the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, and Demography; it has been supported by funders including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation; and it has been recognized by awards including the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award from the American Sociological Association's Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility section.

Host: Prof Yifan SHEN, Assistant Professor, Division of Social Science, HKUST


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