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Shifting From Structural to Individual Attributions of Black Disadvantage: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Black Explanations of Racial Disparities

Journal of Black Studies

Published online on


Despite significant changes in American society, Blacks still lag behind Whites on several important socioeconomic indicators. Attributing this gap to structural reasons (e.g., racial discrimination) or to person-centered reasons (e.g., individual willpower) is highly correlated with the extent to which individuals feel that the government should implement policies to ameliorate racial disparities. Scholars have shown that Blacks have shifted their explanations of Black disadvantage from structural attributions to person-centered over the past three decades. Some suggest that this change is because all Blacks are becoming more conservative while others suggest that cohort replacement is undergirding the shift. I used a newly developed method, the intrinsic estimator, to determine whether period, age, and/or cohort effects are responsible for the shift. I find that, generally, Blacks are less inclined to suggest that discrimination is a credible explanation due to period effects, but the increase in person-centered attributions is primarily due to cohort variation.