Mass imprisonment and the life course revisited: Cumulative years spent imprisoned and marked for working-age black and white men.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Over the last 40 years, imprisonment has become a common stage in the life-course for low-skilled and minority men, with implications not only for inequality among adult men but also for inequality more broadly. Unfortunately, all research documenting how increases in imprisonment have transformed the life-course of poor, minority men has neglected to estimate how much time black and white men on average spend imprisoned or marked as an ex-prisoner. In this article, we fill this gap by using multistate life tables to estimate what share of their working lives (18-64) black and white men will spend imprisoned and marked as ex-prisoners. Our estimates imply that white men spend on average 0.33 years of their working lives imprisoned and 2.31 years marked, while black men spend on average 1.79 years of their working lives imprisoned and 11.14 years marked. This implies that black men spend on average one-third of their working lives either imprisoned or having been freed but marked by the penal system. For the 32.2% of black men who ever experience imprisonment (Bonczar, 2003), moreover, these estimates imply that they spend on average 5.56 years imprisoned, corresponding to 13.4% of their working lives. Taken together, these findings imply a dramatic reorientation of the life course for black men, as one-third of the black male population will spend one-seventh of their working life in prison.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Patterson, EJ; Wildeman, C

Published Date

  • September 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 53 /

Start / End Page

  • 325 - 337

PubMed ID

  • 26188457

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-0317

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0049-089X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.06.011


  • eng