Socio-economic inequalities are one of the most pressing issues facing American society. How has this been over generations and how have these inequalities led to wealth gaps, especially for people of color?
This year’s Boston University’s annual Learn About Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) series focuses on an exploration of social class, and the final installment of the virtual series is today, Wednesday 21 October, featuring a renowned sociologist. Dalton Conley, Henry Putnam University Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.
Conley’s talk, Construction and Understanding of Social Class, will examine the effects of socio-economic equality, how it can be inherited from generation to generation, and how it affects access to wealth for people of color. . The event starts at 4 p.m.
Author of several books, including Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America (University of California Press, 2009), Hierarchical order (Vintage, 2009), Elsewhere, United States (Vintage, 2008), and Parentology (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Conley is also a faculty member at Princeton Demographic Research Office and Health and wellness center and associate researcher at National Bureau of Economic Research. He serves on a voluntary basis as the Dean of Health Sciences at the People’s University, an accredited, tuition-free online college that strives to increase accessibility to higher education.
BU today spoke with Conley prior to today’s conference.
With Dalton Conley
BU today: How is socio-economic status inherited? How does generational wealth or the lack of it affect an individual’s economic mobility?
Conley: Today, we typically measure socio-economic status with four measures. The first is the level of education of a person, the second is the profession (which can be classified by a methodology according to his prestige), the third is his level of income and the fourth is his level of wealth (accumulated or not ). Together, we believe that these four elements constitute the resources that an individual should bring to society, and we call this socio-economic status. There are other dimensions, like political power, but I think if you use these four measures it’s a pretty good summary of a person’s relative position in society from a socio-social perspective. economic.
How it’s inherited isn’t something we know a definitive answer to. My previous work focused on the impact of parental wealth. In the 90s, when I was studying it, there were three measures: education, occupation and income. I was part of a group of new academics who were like, “No, we really have to consider wealth. Wealth is an important part of the classroom, and in some cases it is literally passed down by inheritance or by gifts. What we found is that if you consider all of these dimensions and more like age, appearance, marital status, race, etc., when you throw them all into a pattern together to see what really matters for offspring and their socioeconomic status, it turns out that the most important effect is parental education level, followed by parental wealth.
When you think about it, this illustrates the two main mechanisms by which parents transmit an advantage or a disadvantage socially. Education captures parents’ attitudes towards education, how much they value it, and the kind of cognitive and non-cognitive skills they need to impart to their children. Wealth is the money side, and much of it is in the form of their home. If they own it, it correlates with the quality of your children’s education because in the United States, we fund local schools primarily through local property taxes. Then the wealth of parents influences your ability to go to college, whether you can stay in college without having to work, which in turn influences your performance and whether or not you are likely to step up. years. If you think about income, when you send your kids to college, you don’t think, “Yeah, I’m just going to cut my weekly pay a little bit. You pay with wealth, with money you’ve saved for a long time, such as an education savings plan or loans.
In your book Be black, live in the red, you discuss the relationship between race and wealth mobility. How does race influence a person’s economic status?
It goes both ways, and I think it’s a cycle. In that research, what I found is that if you look at, say, college graduation rates, there’s a racial gap. However, when you simply compare, say, African Americans and white Americans on the likelihood of getting a bachelor’s degree in four years, you’re really comparing apples and oranges because you’re comparing, on average, people who come from. very far different economic resources in their family. There is an income gap, like a wage gap, depending on race, and it is substantial.
But if you look at the wealth gap, the wealth gap has always been around one in 10, which means that the typical African American family, or median, has 10 cents of wealth for the dollar of wealth. the typical middle white family.
What i found is [that] a huge racial wealth gap appears to be the driving force behind continued wealth inequality in a post-1960s era, which means it’s not that race doesn’t matter in society , but for example, differences in education by race are in fact differences by levels of family wealth. Differences in premarital or adolescent childbearing are in fact differences in adolescent childbearing rates depending on the wealth level of the family. There is a difference in the likelihood of depending on public assistance or social assistance depending on race, but in fact it is not a racial difference, it is a difference depending on the level of family wealth. So in reality what appear to be race effects in many areas like education, welfare etc. are in fact wealth effects. They are not explained solely by the differences in income and savings rates between them. They are the product of many different factors, contemporary and historical, but this wealth gap will not go away on its own if we have equal education or even equal incomes.
It is the legacy of hundreds of years of racial inequality. And institutions, policies and market dynamics still generate it today. The argument of this book is that if we want to address racial equality or fairness, one of the main things we should be addressing is the wealth gap. This doesn’t do everything, like resolving differences in police violence, but for a lot of disparities, like disparities in education, the best policy for racial equity and education would actually be racial equity and the wealth. Unfortunately, people love their wealth, and it’s very difficult to have a very progressive wealth policy; even in much more socialist countries in Europe, when there were wealth taxes imposed for redistribution, there were political revolts. So it’s a challenge, but it’s an important challenge.
Has the relationship between wealth and race in America changed? If so, how?
Unfortunately, the answer is short: it hasn’t changed. Some of the institutions that prevented the accumulation of minority wealth in the past are now gone, such as redlining, which was an official practice at the turn of the 20th century. This is the process by which banks would draw a red line on neighborhood maps and draw a red line around minority neighborhoods and make no loans to those neighborhoods. Things like a restrictive racial convention, where a landlord could state that the future owner could only sell or rent their house to people of a particular race, are now illegal. Separate public facilities were made illegal in the 1960s.
There are clearly things that have changed that have affected the distribution of wealth, but it is very stubborn, almost like a weed. It’s still there. And the crazy thing is that for my entire 50-year life, since there were wealth inequality measures, the racial gaps have remained stable. We haven’t really tackled it directly, but we have cropped it with different policies, and yet things haven’t changed. It probably takes a much more direct policy change in the environment to do something. Others are hoping that if we continue to equalize education and continue to slowly reconcile incomes it will close the wealth gap, but I personally think it will require something much more dramatic like wealth taxes and universal bonds for babies. , something that [New Jersey Democratic Senator] Cory Booker spoke about this in his brief presidential campaign, where every kid in America gets a pre-funded savings account that can be used later.
Dalton Conley will speak on Building and Understanding Social Class, as part of the Learn About Diversity and Inclusion series on Wednesday, October 21 at 4 p.m. Register now here virtually attend.
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