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Population Growth, Migration, and Changes in the Racial Differential in Imprisonment in the United States, 1940–1980


  • David J. Harding

    () (Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 410 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-1980, USA)

  • Christopher Winship

    () (Department of Sociology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA)


The proportion of U.S. prison inmates who were black increased dramatically between 1940 and 2000. While about two-thirds of the increase occurred between 1940 and 1970, most recent research analyzes the period after 1970, focusing on explanations such as the war on drugs, law-and-order politics, discrimination, inequality, and racial threat. We analyze the growth in the racial difference in incarceration between 1940 and 1980, focusing on the role of demographic processes, particularly population growth, migration, and urbanization. We implement three analyses to assess the role of these demographic processes: (1) a simple accounting model that decomposes the national trend into population growth, changes in arrests, and changes in sentencing; (2) a model of state variation in incarceration that decomposes the racial difference in incarceration into population change, migration between states with different incarceration rates, and other processes; and (3) race-specific models of within-state variation in incarceration rates using state characteristics coupled with a decomposition of the role of changes in state characteristics.

Suggested Citation

  • David J. Harding & Christopher Winship, 2016. "Population Growth, Migration, and Changes in the Racial Differential in Imprisonment in the United States, 1940–1980," Social Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(3), pages 1-37, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jscscx:v:5:y:2016:i:3:p:32-:d:74319

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ember, Rudolf, 2001. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 259-283, April.
    2. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    3. Cogan, John F, 1982. "The Decline in Black Teenage Employment: 1950-70," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(4), pages 621-638, September.
    4. Prakash, Om, 1999. "David Landes and the Rise of the West," European Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(03), pages 317-322, July.
    5. Sorensen, Jon & Hope, Robert & Stemen, Don, 2003. "Racial disproportionality in state prison admissions: Can regional variation be explained by differential arrest rates?," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 73-84.
    6. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jacob L. Vigdor, 1999. "The Rise and Decline of the American Ghetto," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(3), pages 455-506, June.
    7. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
    8. Samuel Myers & William Sabol, 1987. "Unemployment and racial differences in imprisonment," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 16(1), pages 189-209, June.
    9. Gerald Makepeace & Pierella Paci & Heather Joshi & Peter Dolton, 1999. "How Unequally Has Equal Pay Progressed since the 1970s? A Study of Two British Cohorts," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(3), pages 534-556.
    10. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-442, June.
    11. Steven Raphael & Michael A. Stoll, 2013. "Assessing the Contribution of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill to Growth in the U.S. Incarceration Rate," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 187-222.
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    More about this item


    race; incarceration; migration; urbanization; population; inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • A - General Economics and Teaching
    • B - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology
    • N - Economic History
    • P - Economic Systems
    • Y80 - Miscellaneous Categories - - Related Disciplines - - - Related Disciplines
    • Z00 - Other Special Topics - - General - - - General


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