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Objective. In this study we examine race differences in the effect of childhood in an urban inner-city community on educational attainment in adulthood. Methods. We examine a cohort of African American and white individuals born in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the same hospital. Our analysis examines a set of individual, family, and community characteristics for the respondents at three time points in their life course, birth, childhood, and adulthood. Results. We find that black men and women are substantially more likely than their white counterparts to graduate from high school, and that black women are more likely than white men, black men, and white women to graduate from high school and college. Conclusions. We conclude that social policy to eradicate urban disadvantage must not shift its focus to the plight of poor whites to the neglect of African Americans. Rather, we urge that inner-city white children be "drawn out of the shadows" of social research and that the uniqueness of race, class, and g ender intersections realized in the inner city be brought to bear.
Over the past 30 years analysts have been preoccupied with the racial dimension of poverty, citing the increasingly disproportionate representation of blacks (1) in segregated inner cities where residents are said to suffer severe social marginalization (Auletta, 1982; Farley and Frey, 1994; Glasgow, 1980; Litcher, 1988; Massey, Gross, and Shibuya, 1994; Venkatesh, 1994). Whites of the inner city however, are rarely examined, suggesting that social problems among inner-city young men and women are exclusive to African Americans or Hispanics. Wilson (1987) argues that it is the compounding of multiple disadvantage in these urban communities, not race per se, that produces a unique form of dislocation from mainstream social institutions. That these structural constraints are more numerous and pronounced in communities predominated by blacks helps to explain the observations of large racial differences in social status overall. Wilson's thesis implies that white men and women exposed to compounded multiple disad vantage would suffer a fate similar to that of inner-city black men and women. However, among a vast body of research examining the relationship between urban poverty and individual life chances only a handful attempt to test this idea.
In this article we test Wilson's hypotheses by using models of educational attainment in a longitudinal sample of black and white children born to inner-city women between 1960 and 1965 and followed into adulthood. Specifically, we address the research question, "Do white and African-American children exposed to similarly disadvantaged inner-city neighborhoods have similar educational outcomes?"
The high degree of residential segregation that persists, despite many other advances in race relations, undermines the ability of researchers to study disadvantaged black and white people residing in ecologically and economically similar communities (Jencks and Mayer, 1990; Tiggs, Browne, and Green, 1998). Perhaps this is why few researchers have conducted race comparisons in inner-city settings. One exception is the work of Krivo and Peterson who overcame this problem by studying Columbus, Ohio, "a city with a relatively high prevalence of black and white disadvantage" (1996:623). Their study of crime rates across extremely disadvantaged Columbus neighborhoods lends support to Wilson's thesis, though it does not directly evaluate differences in criminal outcomes at the individual level. Another piece of research compared one black and one white poor urban neighborhood on alleged "underclass" socioeconomic outcomes and behaviors (Alex-Assensoh, 1995).
Although inner-city neighborhoods--frequent sites of poverty research--are grossly segregated by race, predominantly white and predominantly black inner-city areas may cluster together in close proximity and by virtue of their compounded disadvantage have similar characteristics. Clusters of neighborhoods, what Wilson refers to generally as "heterogenous groupings of families and individuals" (1987:8), constitute communities where residents of different racial backgrounds regularly interact, willingly or unwillingly, over resources and institutions common to them all (e.g., schools, social service facilities, and workplaces). Residents of inner-city communities also are bound by the unlikely prospect of their youth breaking free to more mainstream educational, occupational, and economic activity (Mac-Leod, 1995). Thus, clusters of neighborhoods provide an alternative context in which to study inner-city dwellers and racial difference in life outcomes. We employ this broader conceptualization of urban communit y in examining differences in life outcomes among black and white children in the inner city.
Education, Race, and Gender
The educational attainment of African Americans improved substantially during the 1960s and 1970s due in large part to the policies emerging from the civil rights movement. Several major civil rights laws and Supreme Court decisions were enacted to promote equality of opportunity (Farley, 1977, 1997; Katz, 1995; Lewin-Epstein, 1986; NCES, 1995). During this period, racial convergence in educational attainment occurred on many levels. For those aged 25-35, the gap between the high school graduation rates of whites and nonwhites was 25.1 percentage points in 1960; by 1980 that gap was reduced to only 7.6 percentage points (Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1990). Day and Curry (1996) report that by the mid-1990s black high school graduation rates virtually matched those of whites, and impressive gains for blacks were also made in college completion rates. The improvement in college participation among blacks is particularly significant given that "the baccalaureate may be the most significant education credential" in the educational process and "a prerequisite to most of the better jobs" (Rothman, 1999:195). While Baker and Velez (1996) report a widening of the racial gap in college participation around the mid-1980s, black improvements in secondary and postsecondary educational attainments continued through the 1990s.
Bauman's (1998) review of the educational attainment literature shows that net of family background factors, African-American educational attainment outpaced that of whites. These studies emphasize familial context and intergenerational processes believed to have a large impact on a child's educational and economic status in later life. Bauman's gender analysis reveals that the total number of years of education completed by black men had not proven significantly higher than that of white men; that at least through the mid-1960s black men attended high school at significantly higher rates than white men; and that no significant differences were observed between black men and white men in college completion. Black women, on the other hand, have achieved significantly more years of total education and higher rates of college completion than white women for decades. No racial differences in high school completion were observed for either gender.
In a review of intraracial gender differences in educational attainment, Washington and Newman (1991) found gender disparities among blacks to be a persistent phenomenon across virtually every educational transition. The authors report that "black females have higher participation rates in high school graduation, college enrollment, college matriculation, graduate school enrollment, and degree attainment" than black men. None of the studies they cite, however, investigates whether individual, socioeconomic, and environmental factors play a role in these gender disparities.
Intensive reinvestment by policymakers in the elimination of urban poverty coincided with the changing educational landscape during the 1950s and 1960s (although by then American sociologists had been researching the issue for more than a half century; see DuBois, 1899; Drake and Cayton, 1962). Policymakers and social researchers hotly debated a new form of urban poverty in American cities--the growing number and concentration of impoverished inner-city dwellers (Devine and Wright, 1993; Katz, 1995). Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," launched in 1964, ultimately focused attention on those trapped in inner-city areas plagued by persistent racial segregation, out-of-wedlock childbearing, crime, and socioeconomic dislocation of various kinds. Among other things, research has shown that the harshness of poor inner-city life during the formative years significantly depresses the number of years of schooling children will be able to complete (Crane, 1991; Brooks-Gunn et al., 1993; Corcoran et al., 1989). Poverty p rograms were designed to help bridge the gap between the educational …