Family structure affects a child's economic mobility prospects, according to a new studied co-authored by La Follette School professor Thomas DeLeire for the Pew Economic Policy Group's report Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children.
Tom DeLeire is co-author of Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children.
The group's Economic Mobility Project found that 26 percent of children of divorced parents who start in the bottom third of the income ladder move to the middle or top third as adults. This share compares to 42 percent of children who are born to unmarried mothers and 50 percent of children with continuously married parents in the same income category.
The impact of divorce also is seen when analyzing families by race. The vast majority (85 percent) of African-American children and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of white children born into the bottom third of the income ladder remain in the bottom third as adults if their parents divorce. Fewer children (62 percent of African-Americans and 45 percent of whites) remain in the bottom if their parents are continuously married.
"By separating the effects of income and family structure, this report's findings suggest that divorce is a meaningful barrier to a child's economic mobility," says John E. Morton, managing director of the Pew Economic Policy Group, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Parental marital status, however, explains only some of the previously identified racial gap in economic mobility. Fifty-six percent of African-American children born to middle-income parents fall to the bottom of the income ladder as adults compared to 30 percent of white children. This reflects a racial gap of 26 percentage points. When analyzing just middle-income African-American and white children whose parents are continuously married, this gap shrinks but remains substantial at 12 percentage points.
"While these findings add to our understanding of the wide racial gap in economic mobility, our report confirms that family structure is only one of a number of factors that determine a child's chances of moving up the ladder," says DeLeire, who wrote the report with Leonard M. Lopoo of Syracuse University.
Marriage, mobility and race, May 22, 2010, The Economist
University of Wisconsin-Madison news release, May 20, 2010
Economic Mobility Project press release, May 18, 2010