In 1998, 51 percent of African-American children lived in mother-only families, compared to 18 percent of European-American children. Two primary events result in female-headed households, namely, births to unmarried women and marital dissolution, and both are more common among African Americans than European Americans. This is partly a consequence of the unfavorable economic status of African-American men relative to European-American men, which reduces their eligibility as desirable mates. African-American men who are stably employed have higher marriage rates and lower rates of divorce and separation than those who are unemployed or have only minimal or unstable attachment to the labor force. Employment factors, however, represent only one set of factors that influence rates of marriage, divorce, and separation among African Americans. Following divorce and separation, African-American children are more likely to fall into poverty than are European-American children because they were less well-off to begin with. In addition, African-American children spend more time than European-American children in a mother-headed family before making the transition to a two-parent family and are far more likely than European-American children to remain in a mother-headed family for the duration of childhood. All of these factors contribute to race differences in long-term childhood poverty.
Nevertheless, the difference in family structure is not the sole factor responsible for the increased prevalence of poverty among African-American children. The expected prevalence of poverty among African-American children living in two-parent families throughout childhood is roughly the same as the expected prevalence among European-American children who spend their entire childhood living in single-parent families. These race differences are fundamentally rooted in structural forces—traceable to longstanding racial discrimination in employment, education, mortgage lending, and housing—that have produced layers of accumulated disadvantages. Racial discrimination is not only individual-level behavior based on negative racial prejudice. It is also a ''system of advantage based on race'' sustained by institutional practices and policies. It also encompasses behavior intended to maintain racial advantage even though actors may not overtly embrace prejudicial thinking (Tatum 1997).
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