DONDENA Seminar - Christina Cross

Christina Cross

“The Great Distracter: Why the Two-Parent Family is No Cure-All for Racial Inequality”

SPEAKER: Christina Cross (Harvard University)


African Americans have the highest rates of single parenthood in the U.S., and this divergence from the two-parent family is routinely indicted as a fundamental cause of their disadvantaged position in society. One need only take a cursory glance at recent academic studies, news articles, policy briefs, or social media posts to witness the single-parent family being implicated as the source of a wide array of problems disproportionately affecting African American families. Implicit in this perspective on black disadvantage is the assumption that the benefits and outcomes of living in a two-parent are equally available to all. However, a narrow focus on single parenthood cannot tell us the counterfactual: When African American children grow up in the socially promoted two-parent family, how do they fare? How do their outcomes compare relative to their white peers raised in this same family structure? Put differently, is the two-parent family the Great Equalizer many Americans imagine it to be? If not, why do opportunity gaps between the children of Black and white couples persist? And how should we view the role of family structure in contributing to racial inequality? Drawing on data from three nationally representative surveys, I address these questions and more.


Christina J. Cross is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Her research examines the role of the family in shaping individuals’ life chances and how its impact differs by their structural position in society. In particular, she explores how family structure, change, and dynamics influence people’s educational and economic outcomes—with special attention to if, how, and why these relationships differ by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Cross’ work has appeared in outlets such as Social Problems, Demography, and the Journal of Marriage and Family. Her forthcoming book, with Harvard University Press, examines heterogeneity in the impact of the socially promoted two-parent family on children’s wellbeing. Her research been supported by organizations including the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the JPB Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. It has received awards from the American Sociological Association, the Population Association of America, the National Council on Family Relations, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, ProQuest, and the Midwest and Southern Sociological Societies. Cross holds a PhD in Public Policy and Sociology from the University of Michigan.


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