U.S. Black-White Wealth Inequality. Scholz, J., K. & Levine, K. Social Inequality, pages 895–929. Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.
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This chapter examines the extent to which these various factors contribute to racial disparities in wealth accumulation and to observed wealth inequality. The first section provides a brief overview of the main methodological approaches taken by previous authors. The remaining sections examine the evidence of the importance of the factors just mentioned in explaining wealth inequality. In the second section, we consider labor income and demographic characteristics, which may affect preferences or desired consumption choices. The third and fourth sections focus on the effect of intergenerational transfers and family background on patterns of black-white wealth inequality. These factors may influence wealth through several channels highlighted by the life-cycle model: initial assets, income, and preferences. It is also possible that there may be a family-specific component to financial literacy or that families may engage in risk-sharing, both of which could affect portfolio choices or the financial returns to various components of wealth. The fifth section focuses on the more abstract concepts of preferences, such as rates of time preference and risk aversion. In the sixth section, we briefly examine the not-well-understood relationship between health and its effect on wealth, which can be thought of as affecting income, planning horizons, and consumption levels. The seventh section examines the effects of differences in rates of return across households. Rate-of-return variation across groups may be due to differences in household preferences that lead to different portfolio choices, or they may be due to external factors, such as discrimination in housing markets or differential access to credit markets. The eighth section considers another factor external to the household, safety-net programs. These frequently have means and asset tests and consequently may discourage asset accumulation among potential recipients, even if households never receive program benefits. In the final section, we summarize and conclude, raising (but not answering) two additional issues: How effective is public policy in altering patterns of wealth? And how can empirical work convincingly examine the societal or individual consequences of striking wealth inequality?

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