Incarceration of African American Men and the Impacts on Women and Children

104 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020

See all articles by Sitian Liu

Sitian Liu

Queen's University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 29, 2020


Since the early 1970s, the United States has experienced a dramatic surge in imprisonment, especially among African American men. This paper investigates the causal effects of black male incarceration on black women’s marriage and labor market outcomes, as well as its effects on black children’s family structure and long-run economic outcomes. To establish causality, I exploit plausibly exogenous changes in sentencing policies across states and over years and construct a simulated instrumental variable for the incarceration rate. I find that black male incarceration reduces black women’s marriage, but increases employment for more-educated black women. Moreover, black male incarceration increases out-of-wedlock births and negatively affects black children’s educational attainment. Finally, black men at either the extensive or intensive margin of incarceration affect women and children differently. The results suggest the consequences of the tough-on-crime policies for inequality and racial gaps, which could be taken into account when reforming sentencing policies.

Keywords: Mass Incarceration, Sentencing Policy, Marriage Market, Children

JEL Classification: J12, J13, K14

Suggested Citation

Liu, Sitian, Incarceration of African American Men and the Impacts on Women and Children (April 29, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Sitian Liu (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Department of Economics ( email )

94 University Avenue
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6


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