the cumulative effects of discriminatory events or to determine the extent to which past discrimination causes present disadvantage, the large and continuing racial disparities in the United States are at least consistent with the possibility that cumulative discrimination is important. In this chapter, our goal is to consider possible approaches to identifying and measuring the cumulative effects of discrimination.
Discriminatory effects can cumulate over lifetimes and across many generations; that is, discrimination against parents in one generation may directly affect outcomes for their children and indirectly affect life opportunities for subsequent generations (e.g., through poorer education or poorer health). Few studies are able to link discrimination experienced by parents directly to children’s outcomes, but research has suggested a variety of channels through which such a link may occur. For instance, continued racial segregation in housing has ongoing implications for wealth levels and accumulation in future generations (Conley, 1999; Oliver and Shapiro, 1995). Several researchers have found that parents’ education can influence youths’ educational aspirations and attainment (Duncan and Magnuson, 2001; Mare, 1995; U.S. Department of Education, 2001b). Moreover, knowledge about and expectations of going to college influence not only this generation’s college attendance but also the knowledge and expectations of the next generation (Massey et al., 2003). Thus, parents who experience discrimination may socialize their children to avoid certain places or situations, or they may have educational and occupational experiences, knowledge, or goals that limit prospects for their children (see Bowman and Howard, 1985; Boykin and Toms, 1985; Hughes and Chen, 1999).
Discrimination against parents at one point in time may limit prospects for their children even if the discriminatory behavior comes to an end or the children face no discrimination. Although evidence of the impact of parental income on child outcomes is mixed, recent work suggests that parental income may be particularly important for younger children in low-income families (see Duncan and Magnuson, 2002, for a summary). For example, if parents cannot afford to live in better school districts or provide extracurricular learning opportunities, their children are likely to do worse in school. Thus, factors, including discrimination faced by parents, that limit parental income may lead to lower achievement by their children.
An ongoing debate within sociology and other disciplines concerns the extent to which outcomes for one generation persist over time and spill over