Kaufman Management Center
44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
Thanks to Patrick Sharkey for leading this week’s brown bag discussion based on his book Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality.
Racial inequality is a persistent problem in the United States. Since the beginning of the 1970s, progress towards racial economic equality has nearly halted. Approximately 35% of black families fall in the lowest quartile of the family income distribution in the United States. Sharkey explores the role of multigenerational neighborhood effects on economic mobility and finds that 7% of the gap between the average income of black adults and white adults can be explained by adjusting for neighborhood poverty.
Sharkey pointed out that the traditional model for neighborhood effects on child development is focused on the mechanisms directly impacting the child, such as school, exposure to violence, or mental health.
Sharkey advocates for a multigenerational perspective, incorporating a complex set of pathways through which multiple mechanisms can interact to influence child development. Generally, researchers will control for the first set of mechanisms— those that impact the parents. Sharkey says that controlling for these variables is a mistake because it ignores the potential for cross-generational pathways.
This is important because of blacks living in poor neighborhoods, 80% also had parents who were raised in a poor neighborhood as compared to 51% of whites. Sharkey recommends a durable urban policy to combat racial inequality. Such policies should disrupt multigenerational patterns of neighborhood inequality, generate transformative changes in places and in families’ lives, and withstand fluctuations in the political mood and the business cycle. Although aspirational, these urban policy goals can provide a framework for evaluating policies intended to reduce racial inequality.