Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Poverty and Affluence, 1959–2015

  • John IcelandEmail author


This paper examines patterns and trends in racial inequality in poverty and affluence over the 1959–2015 period. Analyzing data from decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, I find that that disparities have generally narrowed over the period. Nevertheless, considerable disparities remain, with whites least likely to be poor and Asians most likely to be affluent on the one hand, and blacks and American Indians much more likely to be poor and less likely to be affluent on the other—and Hispanics somewhat in between. Sociodemographic characteristics, such as education, family structure, and nativity explain some of the disparities—and an increasing proportion over the 1959–2015 period, indicative of the growing importance of disparities in human capital, the immigrant incorporation process, and the interaction between economic conditions and cultural shifts in attitudes toward marriage in explaining racial inequality in poverty and affluence. There also are still significant portions of the gaps that remain unexplained, especially for blacks and American Indians. The presence of this unexplained gap indicates that other factors are still at work in producing these disparities, although their effects have declined over time.


Poverty Affluence Race and ethnicity Inequality 



This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Population Research Institute Center Grant, R24HD041025.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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