Concerning Privilege

Having thought a lot about the concept of social privilege, I’ve long meant to write an essay examining the claim that certain racial groups are the systematic beneficiaries of such privilege while others are unjustly, if informally, hindered. Given Hitchen’s razor, those who assert this state of affairs bear the burden of proof to justify their claim–the doctrine of social privilege is not self-evidently true, after all–and, at least in my estimation, the evidence and arguments thus presented to me have been unconvincing.

Fortunately for that inertial part of me which is loath to go to the trouble of organizing the relevant data and arguments, Cambridge PhD candidates Vincent Harinam and Rob Henderson have done yeoman’s work in this area already, so I’ll just give some highlights from two of their recent articles at Quillette.

Highlights from the first:

[W]e have created four indices through which group outcomes can be judged: 1) economics, 2) education, 3) crime, and 4) health outcomes….


In general, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Asians have had a higher median household income than whites since the mid-1980s….

Following the imposition of communism in 1959, many Cuban refugees migrated to the U.S. By 1990, the children of these exiles had yearly salaries exceeding $50,000 at twice the rate of whites….

In 2000, data from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights showed that 44.6 percent of black applicants were turned down for mortgage loans. In comparison, 22.3 percent of white applicants were turned down…. [A]ccusations of discrimination within the banking sector were widespread. However, the same report… revealed another interesting statistic: the mortgage rejection rate for Asian Americans was 12.4 percent….


According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center… whites are 44 percent more likely to drop out of college than Asians….

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22 percent of whites aged 25 and older held a bachelor’s degree while 9.5 percent and 2.1 percent held master’s and doctorates, respectively. In comparison, 31 percent of Asians have a bachelor’s degree, 18 percent a master’s, and 5 percent a PhD….


In a study of racial differences in police use of lethal force, Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer found [that]… blacks were 23.5 percent less likely to be shot by police, relative to whites. Even when controlling for weapons possession, black suspects were still less likely to be shot….

[T]he odds of being killed by police gunfire were 3.9 and 4.8 times higher for whites than it was for blacks for homicide and violent crime arrests, respectively….

From 1976 to 2005, blacks Americans committed over 52 percent of all homicides in the U.S…. In 2005, the black homicide rate was over seven times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. In 2006, blacks constituted 39.3 percent of all violent-crime arrests…. These statistics… help to clarify differences in incarceration rates….

Health Outcomes

[M]idlife all-cause mortality fell by more than 200 per 100,000 and 60 per 100,000 for blacks and Hispanics, respectively, but rose by 34 per 100,000 for whites. No such pattern exists anywhere else in the industrialized world….

[W]hite males, making up 29.5 percent of the young adult population (age 25-34), accounted for 57 percent of all drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths in this age group between 2010 and 2014. Moreover, between 1999 and 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate for white males and females increased by 28 and 60 percent, respectively. Only America’s Indigenous population had higher increases.

And highlights from the second:

The presumption that social groups should be proportionally represented in all activities and institutions is a fallacy that goes against key statistical laws…. Grossly unequal distributions of outcomes are the rule, not the exception….

[D]isparities do not imply discrimination. This, in fact, is a classic fallacy known as “affirming the consequent.” Plainly, it means to mistakenly attribute an outcome to a previous event, even though such an outcome could be the result of many other events….

[C]omplex outcomes are best explained by a confluence of factors. In the case of white privilege, there are a number of variables which, when taken together, better explain differences in group outcomes. Here, we share four potential factors: geographic determinism, personal responsibility, family structure, and culture….

Geographic Determinism

In a study of American intergenerational mobility, Harvard’s Raj Chetty made a fascinating discovery: “intergenerational mobility varies substantially across areas within the U.S.” In other words, your odds of doing better than your parents depends in part on… what AEI’s Tim Carney calls “geographic determinism….”

[B]lack males who moved to neighbourhoods with less poverty earlier in childhood were more likely to earn more and graduate from college and less likely to be incarcerated than black males that did not. In contrast, black and white males, relative to their parents, were equally poor when living in an impoverished area….

Places with more civic activity, regardless of income, have more upward mobility. In fact, Chetty, calculating an area’s “social capital” score, found a strong correlation between civic activity and upward mobility… Both white working-class and black inner-city neighbourhoods lack the civic institutions that allow for upward mobility….

Personal Responsibility

[I]ndividuals in families that adhered to the success sequence had a 98 percent chance of escaping poverty. By contrast, 76 percent of those that did not adhere to any of these norms were poor…. [H]ad the poor followed the success sequence, the U.S. poverty rate would have fallen by more than 70 percent….

…Brookings Institute researchers found that “blacks and whites who follow the three norms have about the same likelihood of ending up near the middle, with incomes three to five times the federal poverty line.” …[B]lacks, despite starting at a lower level than whites, gained far more both absolutely and relatively when following the success sequence, compared to whites….

Family Structure

Whereas 8 percent of children born to married parents end up in poverty as adults, 27 percent of children born to unmarried parents live as impoverished adults…. [A] child born to a never-married mother in the bottom fifth of family income is three times more likely to stay in the bottom fifth than a child born to a continuously married mother with an equally low income….

Single parenthood increases the likelihood of child abuse, and child abuse survivors are less likely to obtain education and employment, and are more likely to experience depression, addiction, and a host of other detrimental outcomes…. [I]t’s not that intact families are so great. It’s that broken families are exceedingly unsafe.

…[A] staggering 85 percent of young men in prison grew up in fatherless households. This is not at all surprising as every 1 percent increase in fatherlessness in a neighbourhood predicts a 3 percent increase in adolescent violence. Among females, father absence is a remarkably strong predictor of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. In fact, rates of teenage pregnancy were 7 to 8 times higher among father-absent girls than among father-present girls….


When immigration from Lebanon to the United States began in the late 19th century, most of these early immigrants began as street merchants…. Increasing success in business among Lebanese-Americans afforded their children greater educational opportunities…

According to Kay Hymowitz, the Fujianese “crammed themselves into dorm-like quarters, working brutally long hours waiting tables, washing dishes, and cleaning hotel rooms—and sending their Chinese-speaking children to the city’s elite public schools and on to various universities….”

As late as 1970, the highest-ranking blacks in New York’s police department were West Indians, as were all the black federal judges in the city. 1970 census data showed that black West Indian families in the New York metropolitan area had 28 percent higher incomes than the families of American blacks. Furthermore, the incomes of second-generation West Indian black families living in the same area exceeded that of black families by 58 percent…. [A]n absolute majority of black college alumni were West Indian or African immigrants, or the children of these immigrants.

Neither race nor racism can explain these differences. Nor can slavery, because West Indian blacks, like native-born blacks, have also experienced a history of slavery. A more plausible explanation is culture.

The articles themselves are quite long, but absolutely worth reading. They also include hyperlinked sources, which I’ve elected to omit here.

H/T Arnold Kling