Stratification Economics and a Gendered Analysis Around Closing the Wealth Gap



With support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Duke’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity is devoted to developing a research program that explores the intersection of gender with race and ethnicity and prospects for economic security and well-being. Our first entry in our new Research Brief Series, published in collaboration with the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (Insight CCED) demonstrates graphically the importance of examining racial differences in wealth outcomes within a shared gender group. We find vast differences in net worth between black and white women regardless of age, family structure, educational attainment, or marital status. View and download the Women, Race and Wealth Research Brief here.

Project Implementation

At a time when the economy has sent a flood of jobless young adults back home, perhaps surprisingly, older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development for seven years through 2012, the number of Californians aged 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes grew by 67.6% to about 194,000, The jump is almost exclusively the result of financial hardship caused by the Great Recession rather than for other reasons, such as the need to care for aging parents. In collaboration with Insight CCED, Cook Center researchers examine the gender and racial/ethnic dimensions of this pattern of older Americans moving in with their even older parents. Given our findings about the stark racial differences in wealth among women, this phase of the study is important in determining whether particular social groups and whether women, in particular, are facing greater stress associated with returning to living with their own parents at a later stage in life.

Cook Center research scholars also build upon the Center’s groundbreaking research that demonstrates the great importance of parents’ transfer of wealth in influencing adult children’s economic outcomes. Researchers focus on mature adults as means of gaining a better understand their future prospects and that of their adult children. Cook Center researchers dually aim to gain a better understanding of how factors like student debt, kinship and employment affect these households ability to accumulate wealth and the profound implications for multiple generations. In addition, Cook Center researchers investigate whether these processes of wealth transfer vary for sons and daughters and whether any gender differences in the receipt of inheritances and gifts from the prior generation are linked to race and ethnicity.

The traditional focus on an individual’s circumstance or the nuclear family potentially overlooks important constraints on black families in particular. Because black women bear a disproportionate role as heads of households, these constraints may impinge more heavily on their lives and well-being. These stressors also may contribute to racial and gender differences in health outcomes, another dimension that we will investigate under the research program on Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Social Mobility.

Research Questions

Cook Center researchers examine the cumulative effects of gender and race and/or ethnicity on economic outcomes in the U.S. population. This project explores the following broad research questions:

  1. Are the consequences of being black and female additive, non-additive, or exponential in comparison with being white and female or being black and male for wealth or earnings or employment?
  2. What are the magnitudes of the economic penalties associated with the intersection of race and gender in the American economy?

Aims of the Project

  • Provide substantial detail on the relative asset and debt position at the intersection of gender, ethnicity and identity in the United States.
  • Afford, via a combination of strategies, insights about the typical life-cycle or life course pattern of asset and debt accumulation of the target population.
  • Produce a National Asset Scorecard that can be used to evaluate the comparative status of the target population at a point in time as well as over time.
  • Provide rich insights into the sources of the disparities in wealth outcomes for the target population that will be useful in crafting policies to remedy asset inequality and asset poverty.
  • Incorporate a more nuanced treatment of the positives and negatives associated with the accumulation of particular types of indebtedness.
  • Provide data and research support for individuals and organizations committed to advancing a more economically inclusive society.


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