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Accounting for the Black-White Wealth Gap: A Nonparametric Approach

  • Robert Barsky
  • John Bound
  • Kerwin Charles
  • Joseph Lupton

This paper notes a potential problem in the method of Blinder and Oaxaca the most popular method in the literature for decomposing the mean difference between groups of a given variable into the portion attributable to differences in the distribution of some explanatory variables and differences in the conditional expectation functions. In its conventional application, the Blinder-Oaxaca method requires that a parametric assumption be made about the form of the conditional expectations function. We show that misspecification is likely to result in non-trivial errors in inference regarding the portion attributable to differences in the distribution of explanatory variables. A nonparametric alternative to the Blinder-Oaxaca method is proposed. Rather than specify an arbitrary functional form for the conditional expectations function, the method re-weights the empirical distribution of the outcome variable using weights that equalize the empirical distributions of the explanatory variable. Applying this method to the large black-white gap in net worth, we document a substantial difference in the estimated role of earnings differences between the two methods. Our estimates suggest that differences in earnings account for roughly two-thirds of the overall wealth gap.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8466.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8466.

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Date of creation: Sep 2001
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Publication status: published as Barsky, Robert, John Bound, Kerwin Kofi Charles and Joseph P. Lupton. "Accounting For The Black-White Wealth Gap: A Nonparametric Approach," Journal of the American Statistical Association, 2002, v97(459,Sep), 663-673.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8466
Note: AG LS
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  1. Edward N. Wolff, . "Racial Wealth Disparities Is the Gap Closing?," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_66, Levy Economics Institute.
  2. White, Halbert, 1980. "Using Least Squares to Approximate Unknown Regression Functions," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(1), pages 149-70, February.
  3. Erik Hurst & Ming Ching Luoh & Frank P. Stafford, 1998. "The Wealth Dynamics of American Families, 1984-94," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 267-338.
  4. Heckman, James J. & Robb, Richard Jr., 1985. "Alternative methods for evaluating the impact of interventions : An overview," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1-2), pages 239-267.
  5. 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.
  6. James J. Heckman & Hidehiko Ichimura & Petra Todd, 1998. "Matching As An Econometric Evaluation Estimator," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 65(2), pages 261-294.
  7. Joseph G. Altonji & Ulrich Doraszelski, 2000. "The Role of Permanent Income and Demographics in Black/White Differences in Wealth," Working Papers 850, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  8. James J. Heckman & Hidehiko Ichimura & Petra E. Todd, 1997. "Matching As An Econometric Evaluation Estimator: Evidence from Evaluating a Job Training Programme," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(4), pages 605-654.
  9. Francine D. Blau & John W. Graham, 1990. "Black-White Differences in Wealth and Asset Composition," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(2), pages 321-339.
  10. 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.
  11. Joseph Altonji & Ulrich Doraszelski & Lewis M. Segal, 2000. "Black/white differences in wealth," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q I, pages 38-50.
  12. Edward N. Wolff, 1998. "Recent Trends in the Size Distribution of Household Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 131-150, Summer.
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