The Absorbing Status of Incarceration and its Relationship with Wealth Accumulation
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This study extends our knowledge on the negative effects of incarceration to the accumulation of wealth by examining whether, how, and how much incarceration affects home ownership and net worth. It also investigates how these outcomes vary with the time since a person was incarcerated and the number of incarceration periods, along with addressing potential mechanisms behind this relationship.
I apply hybrid mixed effects models that disaggregate within- and between person variation to investigate incarceration’s relationship with home ownership and net worth, using National Longitudinal Study of Youth data from 1985 to 2008. I also incorporate a set of mediation models in order to test for indirect effects of incarceration on wealth through earnings, health, and family formation.
My results show that incarceration limits wealth accumulation. Compared to never-incarcerated persons, ex-offenders are less likely to own their homes by an average of 5 percentage points, and their probability of home ownership decreases by an additional 28 percentage points after incarceration. Ex-offenders’ net worth also decreases by an average of $42,000 in the years after incarceration.
When combined with previous research on incarceration, my findings show that incarceration acts as an absorbing status, potentially leading to the accumulation of disadvantage. Although incarceration’s negative effects on wealth accumulation were partially mediated by its relationship with earnings and family formation, incarceration directly affected home ownership and net worth. In most cases, former inmates began with flatter wealth trajectories and experienced additional losses after incarceration.
KeywordsIncarceration Stratification Cumulative disadvantage Wealth Home ownership
I gratefully acknowledge Barbara Reskin for her insightful comments on drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank Becky Pettit and the participants of the University of Washington Sociology Deviance Seminar for their feedback. Partial support for this research came from a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research infrastructure Grant, R24 HD042828, to the Center for Studies in Demography & Ecology at the University of Washington.
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