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Parental Imprisonment, the Prison Boom, and the Concentration of Childhood Disadvantage

From: Demography
Volume 46, Number 2, May 2009
pp. 265-280 | 10.1353/dem.0.0052

Abstract

Abstract:

Although much research has focused on how imprisonment transforms the life course of disadvantaged black men, researchers have paid little attention to how parental imprisonment alters the social experience of childhood. This article estimates the risk of parental imprisonment by age 14 for black and white children born in 1978 and 1990. This article also estimates the risk of parental imprisonment for children whose parents did not finish high school, finished high school only, or attended college. Results show the following: (1) 1 in 40 white children born in 1978 and 1 in 25 white children born in 1990 had a parent imprisoned; (2) 1 in 7 black children born in 1978 and 1 in 4 black children born in 1990 had a parent imprisoned; (3) inequality in the risk of parental imprisonment between white children of college-educated parents and all other children is growing; and (4) by age 14, 50.5% of black children born in 1990 to high school dropouts had a father imprisoned. These estimates, robustness checks, and extensions to longitudinal data indicate that parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel—and distinctively American—childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents.