If the fancy strikes you, please read on for a brief summary of that presentation (which is itself a brief summary of a working paper, which can be found: here).
Let's begin by talking about the relationship between life, death, and the experience of family. To do that let's imagine that we have an individual represented by a life line. Now imagine that this individual has a child at age 20. At that moment, the individual has transitioned into the kinship relation that we call "parenthood." Now imagine that individual's parents had a child when the individual was 10-years-old. At that moment, the individual has transitioned into the kinship relation that we call "sibling-hood."
Given this, we might ask ourselves: what happens when demography differs consistently between two populations?
In the U.S. context, perhaps no two national populations have differed as dramatically and as consistently with regard to their fertility and mortality profiles than black and white Americans. To illustrate the point, I plot life expectancies and total fertility rates observed over the last century stratified by race.
Race differences in mortality and fertility can affect the experience of family by differentially constraining kin availability and familial life course expectations. I provide a more thorough discussion of each of these terms in my working paper, but for our purposes here, we can think of "kin availability" as simply levels of kinship, and "familial life course expectations" as simply sequences of kinship. The former denotes the probability of transitioning into or out-of a given kin relation, while the latter denotes the specific order in which those transitions are made. Together, differences in these two measures of kinship encompass what I call kin inequality or more succinctly: Kinequality.
So how might we go about measuring kinequality for the black and white national populations? As it turns out, this is a rather difficult task. The primary reason: nationally-representative kinship data simply do not exist. Perhaps the best we can do is to use U.S. Census data on familial households to approximate kinship networks. Unfortunately, Census data only includes measures of kinship relations that fall within the household boundary. What this means, in practice, is that non-co-resident family members (e.g. spouses working outside of the country, adult children off at college, adult siblings, elderly parents, etc.) are entirely unaccounted for. Additionally, Census data on familial households are collected only at a particular moment in time (they are period measures) and so there is no way to track changes occurring in individual kinship networks over time.
These data limitations present serious challenges to any attempt at reasonable measurement of kinship relationships over the lifetimes of black and white Americans. So how might these limitations be overcome?
One ready solution is microsimulation. In situations where data is poor or unavailable (as is the case here), simulation frameworks enable the generation of high resolution data from low-resolution inputs. In my case, I rely on SOCSIM, a well-validated demographic microsimulator developed and maintained at UC Berkeley, to generate individual-level genealogical histories from population-level mortality and fertility inputs. In a nutshell, SOCSIM achieves this by generating fictive individuals who are then "trained" to be born, reproduce, and die in such a way that their aggregate-level behavior accords with observed demographic behavior in real-world populations.
Using the data generated by SOCSIM, I am able to characterize the two components of kinequality: differences in kin availability and familial life course expectations, for black and white Americans over the past century. As an example of this characterization, I present some results for the 1980-1990 birth cohort (those who are 25-35 y.o. in 2015).
The main black-white differences we observe are:
- Earlier transitions into new kinship relations for black Americans: driven by higher fertility at earlier ages (that make different types of kin available earlier on in life)
- Shorter durations in kinship relations for black Americans: driven by higher mortality at all ages (that make exit due to kin death more likely earlier on in life)
- Lower lifetime probabilities of transitions for black Americans: driven by a complex interplay between differences in fertility and mortality
These three patterns are a general feature of black-white kinequality that exists across all birth cohorts observed in the simulation.
As readily evident, the main black-white difference here is the more frequent occurrence of kin death at earlier ages for black individuals relative to their white peers. To apply a little perspective, we might focus on only those kin deaths likely to occur in the pre-adult years of life (ages 0-21).
This general pattern exists across all birth cohorts observed in the simulation.
Though this project relies on an entirely biological understanding of kinship, it is important to keep in mind that the experience of family is a function of both biological and affective relations: friends and community members can step into familial roles and the mere existence of blood relations does not ensure that they will be present in our lives. That said, I argue that kinship defined by consanguinity crucially demarcates the genealogical boundaries within which families must be negotiated and formed.
Throughout the last century, these genealogical boundaries have been far more constrained for black Americans than for white Americans. Prior research on black-white differences in kinship have often suggested the importance of such constraints on the wellbeing of affected individuals (thus translating "differences" into "inequalities"). The present project on black-white kinequality provides the first plausible estimates of these inequalities in constraint at the national level, over the last 100 years.
(For a more detailed presentation of this project and its results, see the complete working paper: here)