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Reparations and Persistent Racial Wealth Gaps

Working Paper 776 | Revised May 13, 2022

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Job Boerma University of Wisconsin-Madison
Reparations and Persistent Racial Wealth Gaps


We analyze the magnitude and persistence of the racial wealth gap using a long-run model of heterogeneous dynasties with an occupational choice and bequests. Our innovation is to introduce endogenous beliefs about risky returns, reflecting differences in dynasties' investment experiences over time. Feeding the exclusion of Black dynasties from labor and capital markets into the model as the only driving force, we find that the model quantitatively reproduces current and historical racial gaps in wealth, income, entrepreneurship, mobility, and beliefs about risky returns. We explore how the future trajectory of the racial wealth gap might change in response to various policies. Wealth transfers to all Black dynasties that eliminate the average wealth gap today do not lead to long-run wealth convergence. The logic is that centuries-long exclusions lead Black dynasties to hold pessimistic beliefs about risky returns and to forgo investment opportunities after the wealth transfer. Investment subsidies toward Black entrepreneurs are more effective than wealth transfers in permanently eliminating the racial wealth gap.

Published in: _NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2022_ (Vol. 37, 2023, pp. 171-221), ed. M. Eichenbaum, E. Hurst, and J. A. Parker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,