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NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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African American Intergenerational Economic Mobility Since 1880

William J. Collins, Marianne H. Wanamaker

NBER Working Paper No. 23395
Issued in May 2017, Revised in May 2020
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Labor Studies

We document the intergenerational mobility of black and white American men from 1880 through 2000 by building new historical datasets and combining them with modern data to cover the middle and late twentieth century. We find large disparities, with white children having far better chances of escaping the bottom of the income distribution than black children in every generation. This mobility gap was more important in proximately determining each generation’s racial income gap than was the gap in parents’ economic status. Evidence suggests that human capital disparities, conditional on parents’ status, underpinned a substantial part of the mobility gap.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23395

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