Family formation has often been cited as a principle avenue out of poverty. A recent study from the Brookings Institution indicates that for black women, this may be an illusion, that married black women actually have a higher tendency to stay in poverty than black men, or their white peers. Rather, the path out lies with better economic outcomes for black men. The authors conclude:
This is certainly one of the most important implications of both their study and our own. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty for black Americans requires a transformation in the economic outcomes for black men, particularly in terms of earnings. One important point here: the relationship between earnings and marriage runs in both directions. Married men tend, other things equal, to earn more: one study of identical twins suggests that being married raises earnings by one-fourth. Married men may feel more responsibility to provide economically for their families, and especially their children. Low marriage rates may therefore have some impact on earnings.
It is also clear that the vast inequalities by race cannot be alleviated by upward mobility alone. Black girls are, relatively speaking, more likely to move out of poverty in terms of their own earnings. However, we should keep in mind the sheer number of black children being raised in low-income households in the first place. Closing the race gaps in upward mobility will require wholesale shifts in economic outcomes, perhaps above all for men’s earnings.