January 29, 2003

· Sociology

Mark Kleiman follows up on the size of the wealth gap by race. (Ampersand has posted some summary data, so you can see how horrible the gap is.) I’d posted about this and Ted Barlow picked up on it, particularly on my mention of Dalton Conley’s work which suggests, in a nutshell, that differences in wealth explain differences in educational attainment between blacks and whites. Mark cites Meredith Phillips on the issue.

I can’t really comment with confidence, because I don’t know enough about the literature—- it’s not my area. Mark suggests a problem with the wealth measure. Most black families are not wealthy, which means that the few that are are real outliers. They are probably different in other salient ways, too. “That means”, Mark points out, “you have to worry that wealth is proxying for other unmeasured characteristics, rather than acting directly to improve performance.” Meredith Phillips says that “Estimates I’ve run based on 5-6 year olds’ vocab scores show that wealth explains no additional chunk of the gap above and beyond causally prior variables. I doubt that wealth is the full causal culprit here.”

I’m interested in finding out what some of those causally prior variables are. Does Meredith have any published or working papers available online? I could always just go to the library and borrow The Black-White Test Score Gap, of course. I’d also note that the debate over the wealth gap doesn’t begin or end with the question of wealth’s effect on test scores, but of course Mark and Meredith know this already.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.

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