New Research Brief: Women, Race and Wealth

Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Cook Center and Insight Center for Community Economic Development

As women across the nation prepare to march for equality, a research brief released today examining wealth inequality across race and gender highlights the substantial economic disparity women of color face in the U.S.

Women, Race and Wealth is the first in a series of briefs that summarize patterns of household wealth among black and white women by college education, family structure and age using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Researchers from Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development analyzed data on assets such as savings and checking accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, houses and vehicles. Debts included credit card debt, student loans, medical debt, mortgages and vehicle debt.

“The staggering disparity in wealth between white and black households has now reached its highest level since 1989. For every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white family, the median black family owns only five cents,” said William “Sandy” Darity, co-author and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke. “Our data show that black women are at an even greater disadvantage, with far less wealth than white women regardless of level of education, marital status, age and motherhood.” 

Single white women without a college degree have $3,000 more in median wealth than single black women with a college degree. Single white women with a bachelor’s degree have seven times the wealth of their black counterparts, $35,000 and $5,000 in median wealth, respectively.

Research shows that circumstances do not improve over time for these women. Married white women without a college degree have nearly four times the wealth of their black counterparts. Single black women aged 60 and older and with a college degree have a mere $11,000 in wealth, which is in stark contrast to the $384,400 in median wealth among single white women that age with a bachelor’s degree. 

Although much of the inequality discourse has focused on income, wealth is a better indicator of economic well-being and a vital metric in understanding economic inequality. The accumulation of wealth is more likely to ensure financial security and opportunity for American families in the future, the authors said. The PSID, from which this brief draws its data, is the longest running longitudinal household survey in the world. It contains nationally representative household data for each survey year, and the authors use results from the 2013 wealth module which surveys the value of assets and debts held by households. 

Click here to download a PDF of the full brief.