Incarceration and Household Asset Ownership

Abstract

A considerable literature documents the deleterious economic consequences of incarceration. However, little is known about the consequences of incarceration for household assets—a distinct indicator of economic well-being that may be especially valuable to the survival of low-income families—or about the spillover economic consequences of incarceration for families. In this article, we use longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine how incarceration is associated with asset ownership among formerly incarcerated men and their romantic partners. Results, which pay careful attention to the social forces that select individuals into incarceration, show that incarceration is negatively associated with ownership of a bank account, vehicle, and home among men and that these consequences for asset ownership extend to the romantic partners of these men. These associations are concentrated among men who previously held assets. Results also show that post-incarceration changes in romantic relationships are an important pathway by which even short-term incarceration depletes assets.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although not all mothers and fathers participate in all survey waves, the attrition levels of these data are lower than the attrition levels among cohabiting women and their partners in other representative samples (e.g., Sassler and McNally 2003).

  2. 2.

    For respondents with romantic partners, it is impossible to distinguish whether they, their partner, or both individuals own the car, truck, or van.

  3. 3.

    A relatively large number of observations are missing data on duration (18 % in the fathers’ analytic sample) and offense type (35 %). Fathers convicted for both nonviolent and violent offenses are considered violent offenders.

  4. 4.

    We use probit regression models, and all covariates from Model 2, to generate a propensity score for each observation.

  5. 5.

    It is inadvisable to compare across logistic regression models (Mood 2010). Therefore, in supplemental analyses, we used linear probability models to estimate the analyses presented in Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5 as well as Tables 6 and 7 in Appendix 1. These analyses produced coefficients that were comparable with the average marginal effects from the logistic regression models.

  6. 6.

    Interactions between incarceration and race/ethnicity show relatively little variation in the association between incarceration and asset ownership, but some evidence suggests that the relationship between paternal incarceration and bank account ownership is stronger among white fathers than among black fathers (p = .049).

  7. 7.

    Each modeling approach is applied to both men and women and to each of the three assets that we observe, potentially increasing the chance of type I error. With one exception (the association between recent paternal incarceration and fathers’ homeownership), our results hold up to both Bonferroni and Sidak corrections for multiple comparisons.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study was provided by the NICHD through Grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations (see http://www.fragilefamilies.princeton.edu/funders.asp for the complete list). Schneider acknowledges support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research Program. We are grateful to Amanda Geller, Jessica Hardie, Loic Wacquant, Anita Zuberi, and participants at the Bay Area Colloquium in Population (BACPOP) for helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Kristin Turney.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Our main findings show that incarceration is robustly associated with asset ownership among both recently incarcerated men and the women with whom they share children.

First, in Table 6, we consider the potentially differential consequences of incarceration duration for fathers’ and mothers’ assets, with duration measured as a series of mutually exclusive dummy variables: less than three months (5 % in the fathers’ analytic sample), three months or longer (7 %), duration missing (3 %), and not recently incarcerated (85 %). Here, if both shorter and longer incarceration spells are similarly associated with asset ownership, these findings would provide some evidence against threats to causal inference because we expect unmeasured characteristics to be correlated with incarceration duration. We find that incarceration lasting less than three months, compared with incarceration lasting three months or longer, is similarly consequential for fathers’ vehicle ownership and homeownership: the coefficients are not statistically different from each other (in the equivalent of Model 2 of Table 2, p = .507 for vehicle ownership and p = .369 for homeownership). Some evidence suggests that incarceration lasting three months or longer is more negatively associated with fathers’ bank account ownership than incarceration lasting less than three months (p = .001). With respect to mothers’ assets, we find no statistically significant differences between fathers’ shorter and longer incarcerations (p = .712 for bank account ownership, p = .965 for vehicle ownership, and p = .948 for homeownership). Furthermore, if we instead use thresholds of six months or one year, we find no statistically significant differences by incarceration duration. Taken together, these findings provide further evidence against threats to causal inference.

Second, in Table 7, we consider the potentially differential consequences of offense type, also measured as a series of mutually exclusive dummy variables: violent offense (3 % in the fathers’ analytic sample), nonviolent offense (6 %), offense type missing (5 %), and no recent paternal incarceration (85 %). These findings would provide some evidence against threats to causal inference if both types of offenses are similarly associated with asset ownership because we expect unmeasured characteristics to be correlated with offense type. Across all models and outcomes, we find no evidence that incarceration for violent and nonviolent offenses are differentially associated with fathers’ assets (p = .692, .235, and .375 for bank account, vehicle, and homeownership, respectively, in the equivalent of Model 2 of Table 2) or mothers’ assets (p = .201, .634, and .921, respectively). Again, these lacking differential associations provide some evidence against threats to causal inference.

Appendix 2

In the main analyses, we assess how recent paternal incarceration—incarceration between the three- and five-year surveys—depletes assets in the relatively short term (by the five-year survey). But the consequences of paternal incarceration for asset loss may play out after the five-year survey. We consider this in supplemental analyses (results discussed but not shown in tables) that gauge how recent paternal incarceration is associated with asset loss at the nine-year survey. In logistic regression models limited to those with assets at the three-year survey (the equivalent of Model 1 in Table 4), we find that paternal incarceration is associated with car ownership (b = −0.85, p < .01) and bank account ownership (b = −0.74, p < .05) among fathers. We also find that paternal incarceration is associated with homeownership (b = −1.74, p < .01) and bank account ownership (b = 0.41, p < .10) among mothers. The paternal incarceration coefficients estimating mothers’ ownership of a home and bank account at the nine-year survey are larger in magnitude than the coefficients estimating mothers’ home and bank ownership at the five-year survey, suggesting that the estimates presented are conservative and that the deleterious effects of incarceration continue to play out over the ensuing years.

Furthermore, the preceding supplemental analyses do not consider paternal incarceration that occurs between the five- and nine-year surveys. In a second set of supplemental models (results discussed but not shown in tables), we estimate how paternal incarceration over a longer time span—between the three- and nine-year surveys—is associated with asset loss at the nine-year survey. These results are also consistent with the findings presented in Table 4. Among those who previously held such assets, paternal incarceration between the three- and nine-year surveys is associated with a decreased likelihood of bank account ownership (b = −0.60, p < .05) and car ownership (b = −1.00, p < .001) among fathers and a decreased likelihood of car ownership (b = −0.43, p < .05) and homeownership (b = −1.64, p < .01) among mothers.

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Turney, K., Schneider, D. Incarceration and Household Asset Ownership. Demography 53, 2075–2103 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0519-1

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Keywords

  • Asset ownership
  • Incarceration
  • Inequality
  • Wealth