Intergenerational Wealth Mobility and Racial Inequality

March 28, 2019

RSF grantees Fabian Pfeffer (University of Michigan) and Alexandra Killewald (Harvard University) have developed a new set of data visualizations for Socius that illustrate how the racial wealth gap persists across generations. These animations, based partly on research supported by the Russell Sage Foundation and housed at the Inequality Lab at the University of Michigan, document changes between the wealth positions of parents and their adult children and illustrate how the past and present both significantly shape today’s significant racial wealth gap.

The first animation illustrates black-white racial disparities in intergenerational mobility. Pfeffer and Killewald analyzed mobility rates for black and white children who grew up in the same quintile of the parental wealth distribution and found that black children were much more likely to fall out of their parents’ wealth quintile than their white peers. “For instance, among those growing up in the middle 20 percent of the parental wealth distribution, black children are much more likely to be downwardly mobile, with 39 percent of them falling to the bottom 20 percent of the wealth distribution compared to 16 percent of white children,” the authors write.

View animation

At the same time, as the authors’ second animation shows, black children are also far less likely than white children to have wealthy parents to begin with. The animation below rescales the number of dots representing black and white children to match their distribution across parental wealth quintiles. The concentration of black families toward the bottom of the wealth distribution is immediately visible:

View animation

By displaying these intergenerational movements between parental and offspring wealth quintiles, Pfeffer and Killewald underline how intergenerational fluctuation coexists with the maintenance of a severely racialized wealth structure. “Overall,” they write, “we conclude that today’s black-white gaps in wealth arise from both the historical disadvantage reflected in the unequal starting position of black and white children (the focus of Animation 2) and contemporary processes (the focus of Animation 1), including continued institutionalized discrimination.”

View the set of animations from the Inequality Lab.



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