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

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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Barsky & John Bound & Kerwin Charles & Joseph Lupton, 2001. "Accounting for the Black-White Wealth Gap: A Nonparametric Approach," NBER Working Papers 8466, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8466 Note: AG LS
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    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.
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    7. Edward N. Wolff, "undated". "Racial Wealth Disparities Is the Gap Closing?," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_66, Levy Economics Institute.
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    11. 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.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination

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