"NY Times" Article Features Princeton's Tanner Lecture Topic: Race and Economic Opportunity in America

Monday, Mar 19, 2018
by Femke de Ruyter

In the March 19 The New York Times’ “The Upshot” section, the article “Sons of Rich Black Families Fare No Better Than Sons of Working-Class Whites” featuring Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project, shows how race currently shapes opportunity in the U.S. Using census data, the study (joint with Maggie R. Jones and Sonya Porter) reflects the lives of 20 million children born between 1978 and 1983 and identifies the effects of racial discrimination across class lines.

“This crystallizes and puts data behind this thing that we always knew was there because we either felt it ourselves or we’ve seen it over time,” said Will Jawando, who worked in the Obama White House on My Brother’s Keeper, a mentoring initiative for black boys.

The story uses data to show how matters outside the homes such as neighborhood environments, the economy, and societal prejudices have a greater impact on black men. 

The article’s authors cite Noelle Hurd, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, who said that the racist stereotype particularly hurt black men economically, now that service-sector jobs, requiring interaction with customers, have replaced the manufacturing jobs that previously employed men with less education.

This spring, Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, will deliver the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton on findings from this study. Tanner Lectures are presented annually at select universities around the world; the invited lecturer presents a series of lectures reflecting upon scholarly and scientific learning relating to “the entire range of values pertinent to the human condition.”

Princeton’s Tanner Lectures, “Race and Economic Opportunity in America: New Lessons from Big Data” – on both Tuesday, March 27 & Wednesday, March 28 – begin with a discussion by Chetty and are followed by comments from two distinguished scholars. On Tuesday, Prudence Carter, Dean and Professor of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and William Galston, the Ezra Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program will provide commentary. On Wednesday, William Julius Wilson (also quoted in The New York Times story), the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard, and Nobel Laureate, James Heckman, Henry Shultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, will provide remarks.

The first lecture will show how rates of upward income mobility vary by race – generating disparities that can persist across generations – and investigate factors that drive these disparities. The second lecture will show how children’s opportunities to climb the income ladder vary substantially depending upon the neighborhood in which they grow up and will use this geographic variation as a lens to understand environmental determinants of racial disparities.

The lectures will conclude by discussing potential policy solutions and directions for further work, drawing more broadly upon lessons from the Equality of Opportunity Project.

If you have any questions regarding the upcoming Tanner Lectures, please email femked@princeton.edu for more information.