Reconsidering wealth, status, and power: Critical Demography and the measurement of racism

Sociologists have a long tradition of studying the effects of differentials in indicators of socioeconomic status by race. In fact, since Duncan’s classic study on poverty, differences on such indicators have often been considered a measure of the “cost of being black.” This paper employs the new paradigm in the study of population, Critical Demography, to develop a measure of racism based upon estimates of the differentials in wealth, status and power. Specifically, the study asks three questions: (1) How is racism measured relative to wealth, status and power in the United States? (2) Based upon this measure, how has racism changed over time? and (3) What are the theoretical implications of this measure for the study of race and ethnicity in sociology, demography and the social sciences in general? The findings provide evidence of Mertonian serendipity: once macro-level measures of racism are controlled, blacks actually exceed whites in levels of education, income and housing values. The paper concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of measuring racism from a Critical Demography perspective.