Qualitative research suggests that mothers play a critical role in supporting adult children both during and after experiences of incarceration, yet the implications of incarceration for the parents of incarcerated individuals have been relatively unexplored in existing research. Wealth research has also largely overlooked questions of how adult children influence parental wealth, tending to instead focus on downward intergenerational processes and transfers from older generations to younger generations. Using mother-child linked data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult cohort, we investigate whether child incarceration appears to influence maternal wealth, what mechanisms play the largest role in driving this relationship, and, finally, whether accounting for child incarceration history helps to explain the racial wealth gap among American women. We use event history and fixed effect models to assess the evidence that child incarceration affects three forms of wealth: financial wealth, homeownership, and primary residence equity. We find a significant relationship between child incarceration and maternal wealth, but the importance of current versus prior child incarceration depends on the type of wealth considered. Separate models by race and ethnicity suggest that child incarceration may be much more detrimental in dollar terms for white women than black or Hispanic women, but the financial asset penalty associated with child incarceration is larger in percentage terms for black women than for white women.
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