Group Memberships & Poverty

Social scientists and, more recently, economists are giving greater importance to group-based explanations of poverty, impelled by increasing evidence that individual-level explanations are inadequate for understanding many differences in socioeconomic outcomes. The basis of this approach is straightforward: it postulates that our socioeconomic outcomes depend significantly upon the composition of the groups of which we are members over the course of our lives. Such groups may be defined along many dimensions, including ethnicity, the neighborhoods in which we live, our schools, and our places of work.

The MacArthur Research Network on Economic Inequality and Social Interactions is exploring ways to identify and measure group memberships and their effects on inequality.

IRP Discussion Papers, Reprints, and Books

Affirmative Action: What Do We Know?
Harry J. Holzer

This paper reviews the research evidence on the effects of affirmative action in employment, university admissions, and government procurement. It considers effects on both equity (or distribution) as well as efficiency. Overall, affirmative action does redistribute jobs, university admissions, and government contracts away from white males toward minorities and females, though the overall magnitudes of these shifts are relatively modest. (DP 1314-06)

Contextual Complexity and Violent Delinquency among Black and White Males
Marino A. Bruce

Most social scientists agree that whites and African Americans exist in different economic, political, and social environments and assert that these "contextual" differences contribute substantially to group differences in violence and other antisocial outcomes. This paper extends these ideas into the empirical realm by using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and structural equation modeling to compare a model of violent delinquency among black adolescents to one among white adolescents. (DP 1273-03)

Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice: Madison and Dane County in Context
P. Oliver and J. Yocom

Draws on national, state, and local data on imprisonment rates of African Americans and whites in Wisconsin, particularly in Dane and Milwaukee Counties. We find that Wisconsin has very high rates of black imprisonment and slightly lower rates of white imprisonment than the national average, resulting in one of the highest black/white disparities in incarceration in the nation. (DP 1257-02)

Segregation Forever? Racial Composition and Multiracial Friendship Segregation in American Schools
L. Quillian and M. Campbell

Uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine contextual and class influences on interracial friendship formation among students in grades 7 through 12. (DP 1241-01)

Business Development Financial Institutions: Theory, Practice, and Impact
J. Caskey and R. Hollister

Over the past decade, many communities have sought to promote their economic development by launching business development financial institutions (BDFIs). BDFIs are private financial institutions that provide loans or equity capital to small- and medium-sized businesses in a targeted region; they must be willing to accept below-market rates of return on capital in order to further community economic development goals. (DP 1240-01)

The Memberships Theory of Poverty: The Role of Group Affiliations in Determining Socioeconomic Outcomes
S. N. Durlauf

This paper describes a particular perspective on the causes of poverty, namely, a memberships-based theory. The idea of this theory is that an individual's socioeconomic prospects are strongly influenced by the groups to which he is attached over the course of his life. The author outlines the theory, characterizes the empirical evidence in its support, and remarks on its implications for antipoverty policy. (DP 1221-01)

A Framework for the Study of Individual Behavior and Social Interactions
S. N. Durlauf

Recent work in economics integrates sociological ideas into the modeling of individual behavior, with emphasis on how social context and social interdependences influence the ways in which individuals make choices. This paper provides an overview of an approach to integrating theoretical and empirical analysis of such environments. (DP 1220-01)

Metropolitan Labor Markets and Ethnic Niching: Introduction to a Research Project
F. Wilson

This study investigates labor market niching of 102 ethnic groups in 216 metropolitan areas in 1990; about 12 percent of the labor force in these areas was employed in ethnic niches. Ethnic niching emerges from economic competition resulting from changes in the relative number and sizes of ethnic populations in conjunction with the expansion/contraction of employment opportunities in local labor markets. (DP 1204-00)

How Long Do African Americans Stay in High-Poverty Neighborhoods? An Analysis of Spells
L. Quillian

A large share of the black population will experience a short spell of residence in an extremely poor neighborhood at some time over a 10-year period, but many residents will be there for long spells. Among poor African Americans, reentry to high-poverty neighborhoods following an exit is common. Patterns of stays in high-poverty neighborhoods are more complex than usually supposed. (DP 1203-00)

Inequality and Delinquency: Sorting Out Some Class and Race Effects
M. Bruce

RPT 825 (Race & Society, Vol. 2, no. 2 [2000], pp. 133-148)

This article critically examines previous work on race and delinquency and present empirical models specifying structural and intermediate mechanisms implicated in delinquent behavior. I analyze a national, multilevel sample of Black and White males in the 12th grade to assess the degree to which structural, family and peer factors influence two forms of delinquency-alcohol use and fighting. The results cast doubt on culture-based assumptions, force us to reconsider the theoretical underpinnings of a large segment of research in this area.

Neighborhood Attributes as Determinants of Children's Outcomes: How Robust Are the Relationships?
D. Ginther, R. Haveman, and B. Wolfe

RPT 821 (Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 35, no 4 [Fall 2000], pp. 603-642).

This article reviews the literature regarding neighborhood effects on children's outcomes, and asks if the differences in various estimates of neighborhood effects may reflect the differences among studies in the specification of family characteristics, and hence omitted variables bias. We report a systematic set of robustness results for three youth outcomes (high school graduation, the number of years of completed schooling, and teen nonmarital childbearing).

Neighborhood Deprivation Affects Children's Mental Health: Environmental Risks Identified in a Genetic Design
A. Caspi, A. Taylor, T. Moffitt, and R. Plomin

RPT 819 (Psychological Science, Vol. 11, no. 4 [July 2000], pp. 338-342).

Does growing up in deprived neighborhoods matter above and beyond a genetic liability to behavior problems, if genetically vulnerable families tend to concentrate in poor neighborhoods? A nationwide study of 2-year-old twins shows that children in deprived neighborhoods were at increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems over and above any genetic liability. The results suggest that the link between poor neighborhoods and children's mental health may be a true environmental effect.

Mitchell Duneier, with photographs by Ovie Carter. 1999. 384 pp.

For more than a decade, New York's largest colony of booksellers has occupied a patch of Greenwich village. Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist, immersed himself for five years in the world of these book vendors, studying their culture and their tempestuous relationship with pedestrians, local residents, and the police. Duneier sets out in his book Sidewalk to show these men as assets to a vibrant, viable city. He presents the beleaguered book peddler as integral to a healthy neighborhood, an extra set of eyes that keeps the street safe and, in a city cleaved by race and class, fostering interaction between people who might never otherwise mix, and providing a way for society's most marginalized citizens to earn an honest living.