February 22, 2023
Last week I answered the common question of whether the higher black male crime rate is due to poverty when growing up by diving into Harvard economist Raj Chetty’s immense database: No, it turns out, black men are about four times more likely than white men whose parents had the exact same income to be imprisoned, with, perhaps surprisingly, the black-to-white racial ratio getting even worse at higher childhood incomes.
Besides crime, Chetty’s research collating millions of IRS 1040 returns with Census forms also provides an enormous amount of insight into racial differences in income.
So, I’ll continue my symbiotic relationship in which Chetty crunches the numbers and I explain what they mean.
America’s big racial economic disparity is less between blacks and other races than between black men and nonblack men.
America offers countless affirmative-action and diversity-inclusion-equity programs to reduce racial gaps, which black women appear to do a decent job of taking advantage of. But black men tend to be so self-burdened by criminal records and other dysfunctional behavior that many fail to exploit modern America’s pro-black bias.
Looking at individual rather than household income on tax returns, Chetty found that in 2014–2015 the median white woman age 31 to 37 made 30 percent more than the median black woman. But white men made well over twice as much as black men.
|Median Individual Incomes|
|Male||Female||M / F|
|W / B||223%||130%|
So, during these prime child-rearing years, white men make over 50 percent more than white women, allowing many white wives to focus more effort on their kids. The typical white man in his 30s works about nine hours more per week than the typical white woman. In contrast, the median black woman earns 12 percent more than the median black man, and works two hours more per week.
|Hours of Work Per Week|
|Male||Female||M / F|
|W / B||151%||105%|
The racial gaps are much bigger when measured upon household income because only 16 percent of black women are married in their 30s versus 58 percent of white women. The median white woman’s household income is almost 2.5 times that of the median black woman’s household income.
Chetty sounds astonished by how seldom blacks marry:
White children at the bottom of the income distribution are as likely to be married as black children at the 97th percentile of the parental income distribution.
Of course, one reason that blacks marry so seldom is because black men tend not to be good providers. And a sizable reason for the unsuitability of black men as husbands is, as Chetty writes:
Notably, 10.3% of black men in our sample of children were incarcerated on April 1, 2010 (between ages 27–32), a far higher rate than for any of the other subgroups.
Much of the antiwhite racist hate speech that has become such a noteworthy feature of mainstream media discourse in recent years is generated by educated black women angry at the black men in their lives for acting like lazy knuckleheads. But they can’t say that, so they rechannel their rage into politically correct defamation of whites. The only way the Democrats’ coalition of the fringes can possibly hold together is if they all hate straight white men instead of each other.
Chetty also has IRS returns from 1994 to 2000 for his subjects’ parents. Relative to their parents’ income, black women do okay compared with white women, but not black men compared with white men:
…the black-white intergenerational gap in individual incomes is driven almost entirely by men. We find gaps for men of about 11 percentiles across the parental income distribution. In contrast, black women have 1 percentile higher individual income ranks than white women conditional on parental income.
Note that Chetty isn’t saying that black women make more money than white women. They don’t. They start out poorer and they stay poorer. But black men do much worse than white men who grew up at the same income level.
My theory since the last century has been that blacks skew more macho than whites, which can help black women make money. But black men tend to be too masculine for their own good. And American culture overly encourages black male machismo.
Chetty started his data accumulation project over a decade ago to find the best places to raise the next generation and learn their local lessons so they can be applied nationwide.
He has come up with some findings. The best places for the working class to raise their kids have recently been in quite white, socially conservative settings like the northern Great Plains and Utah. For the upper middle class, move to an upscale suburban county of a major city, like Fairfax outside of Washington, D.C., or DuPage outside of Chicago.
Atlanta, as I’ve often mentioned, appears better for blacks than Chicago:
Among white men with parents at the 25th percentile of the national income distribution, those who grew up in Atlanta have a mean rank of 46.6, significantly lower than those who grew up in Chicago, who have a mean rank of 52.6. In contrast, black men who grew up in Atlanta have a mean rank of 37.7, higher than the mean rank of 36.8 of low-income black men who grew up in Chicago.
For black male youths, he recommends that their parents move them to neighborhoods where there are few poor people and most of the other black boys live with their fathers. (In Chetty’s view, it’s not that important if your son grows up with his father, but it’s important that the other black boys in the neighborhood grow up with their fathers, presumably so they don’t ensnare your son in their gang and start him on a life of crime. How that would scale, I don’t know.)
Black boys do especially well in low-poverty neighborhoods with a large fraction of fathers at home in black families and low levels of racial bias among whites. However, very few black boys grow up in such areas. 4.2 percent of black children currently grow up in Census tracts with a poverty rate below 10 percent and more than half of black fathers present. In contrast, 62.5 percent of white children grow up in low-poverty areas with more than half of white fathers present.
He’s found two promising neighborhoods:
For example, black men have the highest rates of upward mobility in Silver Spring in the Washington DC Metro Area as well as parts of Queens in New York. In these areas, black men growing up in low-income (p = 25) families have mean income ranks in adulthood above the 50th percentile.
Silver Spring, Md., is just over the border from Washington, D.C. It’s 28 percent black, and tends to be populated by federal bureaucrats. I realize that it’s fun to bash on Washington workers, but they tend to be decent neighbors: smart, stable, and not going anywhere. Also, Silver Spring has lots of African immigrants: It was 5.2 percent Ethiopian in 2010.
Queens is the center of NYC’s middle-class black immigrant population. Eddie Murphy’s 1988 movie Coming to America is about an African prince who picks Queens from a map as the place to find his queen (and is satisfied with the outcome).
In other words, there’s something very wrong with African-American culture that other black countries seem to do a better job of avoiding despite being much poorer.
Strikingly, Chetty reports that white boys benefit more than black boys from growing up in good neighborhoods (and, conversely, are presumably hurt worse by growing up in bad neighborhoods):
Intuitively, both black and white boys have higher incomes in low-poverty areas, but the effect of growing up in a low-poverty area is larger for whites than blacks.
Why? Perhaps it’s just that there are more high-potential whites than blacks. Basically, blacks benefit from good (i.e., not very black) neighborhoods by being more likely to stay out of jail, but whites benefit more because they have higher capabilities on average.
Hence, where policy pushes blacks to live will always be a political hot potato. For example, the Biden administration is reviving Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing scheme to help cities unload their blacks on the suburbs and small towns.
Chetty has grudgingly come around to accepting my 2013 criticism that his celebrated maps of upward mobility are mostly maps of where the blacks and American Indians aren’t.
Chetty has the tax returns of 21 million thirtysomething Americans from 2014 to 2015 and the 1040s of their individual parents in 1994–2000. He sees no evidence that the newer generation of blacks and Native Americans is closing the gap with whites. He wrote in 2019:
…blacks and whites are in a steady-state in which the black-white income gap is due almost entirely to differences in rates of intergenerational mobility rather than transitory or historical factors…. Rates of intergenerational mobility for American Indians are very similar to those for blacks.
One interesting question that Chetty has the data to answer but hasn’t yet chosen to do so is how much of the disappointing economic performance of blacks over the sixty years of the civil rights era has been due to dyscultural or dysgenic fertility creating headwinds for the black race as a whole. W.E.B. Du Bois complained about how much larger were the families of poor blacks than of his own “talented tenth.”
This fertility pattern remained true into the late 20th century, which meant that the bottom 50 percent of blacks conceived and nurtured a larger fraction of the next generation than did the top half. You don’t have to have an opinion on nature or nurture to see that would be a problem.
However, in this century, the fertility rate of poor black women has dropped sharply and generation times have lengthened as fewer black teens give birth, so it could be that this problem is ameliorating.
Chetty is much more optimistic about Latinos:
Hence, unlike blacks and American Indians, Hispanics are on an upward trajectory across generations and may close most of the gap between their incomes and those of whites…. Their low levels of income at present thus appear to be primarily due to transitory factors.
Unfortunately, I suspect some of that is due to Chetty’s methodological weakness of not adjusting his income figures for the wide variations in cost of living around the country. Hispanic immigrants tend to head for places with high and rising rents, such as Los Angeles County, home to 4 million Latinos.
And it’s not as if Latinos have driven Los Angeles’ big wealth generators, such as the entertainment industry and, earlier, aerospace. Places that have had large numbers of Hispanics for many generations, such as the Rio Grande Valley and New Mexico, are not economically dynamic.
But we shall see.
Chetty goes out of his way to not sound too optimistic about Asians. You don’t have to worry about the menace of Asian economic supremacy, the Indian-born Chetty argues, because the next generation of Asian-American kids is sure to recede to lackadaisical white levels of achievement:
Asian children whose mothers were born in the U.S. have outcomes very similar to white children, while those whose mothers were born outside the U.S. have much better outcomes than white children. Hence, the exceptional outcomes of Asian children are unique to the children of first-generation immigrants rather than a persistent feature of Asians who are U.S. natives. For this reason, Asian children of U.S. natives have a predicted steady state income level that is similar to whites.
Well, maybe… But note that his database focuses on people born in 1978–1983. So, all his Asian kids with American-born Asian mothers were from pre-1965 Asian immigrant waves, which tended to be much more blue-collar—Chinese railroad coolies, Japanese farmers, Filipino field hands, and Sikh farmers—than the more recent waves with all their STEM students.
As James Flynn, discover of the Flynn Effect, noted, between 1960 and 1975 Chinese- and Japanese-ancestry schoolchildren in America scored slightly below the white mean on IQ tests. But since then, legal immigrants from Asia have been skewed strongly toward grad students and the like.
Will their kids regress toward the white mean as Chetty predicts?
American-born Yale law professor Amy Chua, daughter of a famous chip designer, retorted in her best-seller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: over her dead body.