Race, Family Structure, and Wealth: The Effect of Childhood Family on Adult Asset Ownership
Racial differences in wealth ownership are among the most extreme and persistent forms of stratification in the United States, but the factors that contribute to this inequality are unclear. One potentially important contributing factor is family background. It is a critical determinant of attainment, and both childhood family resources and family structure vary racially. This article reports that family size during childhood contributes significantly to racial differences in adult wealth. I find that siblings strain material and nonmaterial resources during childhood and decrease adult home ownership, stock ownership, and total assets. Having extended family in the home also decreases wealth for those from intact families, but an extended family minimizes the negative effect of divorce and separation and increases wealth in disrupted families. I also find that childhood family size and family structure are related to racial differences in adult wealth accumulation trajectories, allowing whites to begin accumulating high-yield assets earlier in life. The results provide insight into the role of family background in creating and maintaining inequality, particularly racial stratification in wealth ownership. © 2004, Pacific Sociological Association. All rights reserved.
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