A counterfactual approach to the black -white differential in family trends: The effect of a “total institution”

Jennifer Michelle Hickes Lundquist, University of Pennsylvania


Social scientists have noted an increasing divergence in family patterns between US blacks and whites, with the former experiencing markedly higher divorce, nonmarital childbearing and never-marrying rates. While the causality behind such racial divergence is complex, the current political climate tends to downplay economic explanations, emphasizing that differences are attributable primarily to individual and group level preferences. This dissertation exploits the military context as a unique way to reassess these issues. Most explanations forwarded for race differences in society find their counter in the military environment. For minorities, the military provides improved economic opportunity and stability. There is also evidence for an improved environment extending beyond simply socioeconomic parity, as evidenced by the military's comparatively high levels of racial desegregation and interracial marriage. Through a combination of event history and propensity score matching analyses using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, I find that racial differences in family patterns, so prevalent in the civilian population, dramatically decrease or disappear. Military blacks and whites are each equally likely to marry. Divorce rates are reversed from the civilian pattern. Nonmarital childbearing is substantially reduced among blacks in the military relative to their civilian counterparts. In the second part of the dissertation I use the Survey of Active Duty Personnel to show how the military moderates many of the structural disadvantages of race. Using ordered category logistic regression, I find that, compared to military whites, military blacks consider their lives vastly improved from civilian life along all of those elements identified as lacking for many black Americans in civilian society. This is the case not only in ratings of improved economic conditions and related benefits, but also in ratings of overall happiness. The third part of the dissertation explores the “social contact hypothesis,” comparing veterans with nonveterans in their behaviors and opinions related to race. Exploratory analyses using the General Social Survey show an association between increased tenure in the military and a pronounced lessening of racially discriminatory attitudes among white males. Overall, this dissertation highlights the experimental utility of the military environment in reevaluating traditional approaches to race stratification.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Demographics

Recommended Citation

Lundquist, Jennifer Michelle Hickes, "A counterfactual approach to the black -white differential in family trends: The effect of a “total institution”" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3138023.