The Geography of Black Economic Progress After Slavery

About this Session


Thu. 07.04. 16:00



Speaker: Lukas Althoff, Co-Author: Hugo Reichardt

Throughout modern history, Black Americans have faced racial disparities in education, income, and wealth. We show that a large share of those disparities can be directly attributed to post-slavery factors that held back the economic progress of Black families, especially in the Deep South. First, we link decades of Census records and develop a new method to identify descendants of enslaved people. We document that their socioeconomic status remains well below that of the descendants of Black families who gained freedom before abolition, accounting for 40 percent of the modern Black-white gap. Second, we estimate how different places within the South affected Black families’ economic progress over time based on the (plausibly exogenous) birthplace of their enslaved ancestors. We find that the Deep South became increasingly harmful to intergenerational progress among Black (but not white) families, relative to other regions. Had it not been for those post-slavery factors in the Deep South, formerly enslaved families would have caught up with other Black families within three generations after becoming free.