This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How is the Dream Fifty Years Later?

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. This was a turning point in race relations in the US, but "race" is such an unfortunately volatile topic that we need to keep track of progress. Figure 10.5 in the 11th edition of my text shows the gap in family income of Whites and Blacks in the US since data were first collected by the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey in 1947. From 1947 to the early 1960s, black family income hovered around 55 percent of white family income. In the mid-1960s the ratio jumped up to nearly 70 percent, but it has since slipped back down to 63 percent, according to data from the 2011 Current Population Survey (the latest available data). This means that since Martin Luther King's speech and the changes that came along with the Civil Rights Movement, the income of the average black family has risen slightly faster than white family income, but the gap in absolute income has actually widened and, importantly, there has not been much improvement lately.

Some of the gap is due to the different family structures between whites and blacks, as conservative pundits such as Bill O'Reilly have been pushing. While it is true that a higher fraction of black than white families are headed by females (pushing down income because there is only one earner and she is likely to earn less than a male), even among married-couple households, black families are earning only 86 percent of what white families earn. Education, as always, is a good predictor of income, and for both black and white families we can see that the more educated is the head of household, the higher is the income, yet the income gap exists at every educational level. The gap is greatest among those with less than a high school diploma--where blacks earn only 60 percent of what whites earn. But even for those holding a doctorate, blacks are earning only 89 percent of what whites make. An improvement, to be sure, but still a gap. What explains the gap? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seems reasonable to conclude that discrimination is the causal factor. There is still work to do here.


  1. Professor Weeks, couldn't the fact there is a large difference in mean cognitive ability among groups have a little bit to with the 'gap.' I am 35 years old, and throughout my life, affirmative action has run in a direction favoring those of color. The scales began to fale from my eyes regarding discrimination when, top grades and a perfect SAT score in hand I digested college rejection from my two preferred schools while those of color around me with much lower performance reveled in acceptance.

    Here is a primer, since your education needs to start somewhere. It is actually compiled by an African American(!) blogger:

    Like most whose liberals who take blank slatism as a fundamental religious tenet, I expect you will flee from heresy, but perhaps you will educate yourself a tad.

    If racism is the reason for black underperformance, why is it that in every country that is predominantly black, income levels are a mere fraction of those of white countries, regardless of history. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, eliminated all whites 200 years ago.

    I am not a racist, but I am aware of the science on this topic and it is virtually settled science. Indeed a majority of all states set different achievement benchmarks according to race:

    Asians, not whites, tend to do the best and thus have the highest benchmarks.

    If you are still reading, here is Jayman's analysis of cognitive trends for American blacks, which is dire.

    Will these facts have any bearing on your viewpoint?

    “A Man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

    ― Benjamin Franklin

  2. I appreciate your blog -- it is one of the best demographic blogs I have seen on the entire Internet (please take that as the high praise that it is). You are to be commended for keeping up the flow of data when blogs about what Miley Cyrus wore garner all the comments.

    I apologize for coming across as combative, but I am aware that there are natural reasons why gaps of every kind between every group will never close. This is not inherently a bad thing for the real diversity of humanity is the most awesome and greatest thing I can think of in the world.

    But if differences in some measure are reflexively blamed on another group the seeds of strife and bloodshed are sown. This is not mere speculation. The worst single tragedy in history, the Shoah, or Holocaust (I do not count the 100 million who died under Communism because that was not a single event) was spurred in large part by resentment that Jewish people were performing better economically on average in a nation that had just endured hyperinflationary collapse. The economic outperformance of Jewish people on average is not surprising when mean cognitive performance is taken into account, but when individuals stirred resentment in lesser-performing groups, it led to history's greatest calamity.