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First Quarter 2017, 
Vol. 99, No. 1
Posted 2017-02-15

Do Family Structure Differences Explain Trends in Wealth Differentials?

by Robert I. Lerman

Race and ethnic wealth differentials are wide and increasing. Some of the gaps are associated with education differences, but education alone cannot account for the substantially higher net worth of White families than of Black and Hispanic families. As of 2013, the median wealth of Black college graduate families had fallen to only 13 percent of the median wealth of White families. One possible explanation is the significantly lower shares of married couple and married parent households among minorities. For example, even among college graduates, only 41 percent of Black family heads were married, compared with 68 percent of White family heads. Did these trends in family status contribute significantly to differences between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in the declines in wealth among college graduates? The author finds that family status changes between 2007 and 2013 were too small to play a large role and even married couple families among Blacks and Hispanics suffered sharp declines in home equity and net worth. Still, married couples retained at least a 70 percent advantage over the unmarried groups.