Thomas Shapiro

Last updated
Thomas M. Shapiro
Born (1947-04-24) April 24, 1947 (age 71)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Sociologist, author
Nationality American
Subject Sociology

Thomas M. Shapiro is a professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Brandeis University and is the author The Hidden Cost of Being African American and the co-author of Black Wealth/White Wealth. Shapiro's current professional titles include the Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy and the Director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy. The primary areas of focus for Shapiro's research and publications are racial inequality and public policy. [1]

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Brandeis University private research university in Waltham, Massachusetts

Brandeis University is an American private research university in Waltham, Massachusetts, 9 miles (14 km) west of Boston. Founded in 1948 as a non-sectarian, coeducational institution sponsored by the Jewish community, Brandeis was established on the site of the former Middlesex University. The university is named after Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice of the U.S Supreme Court.


Early life and education

Thomas M. Shapiro was born in Los Angeles, California on April 24, 1947. He received his B.A. Degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1969. Shapiro went on to receive both his M.A. degree (1971) and PhD (1978) from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. [2]


Thomas Shapiro's first book was Population Control Politics, published in 1985, which focused primarily on female sterilization, the welfare state, and public policy in the United States. [2]

Compulsory sterilization, also known as forced or coerced sterilization, programs are government policies which force people to undergo surgical or other sterilization. The reasons governments implement sterilization programs vary in purpose and intent. In the first half of the 20th century, several such programs were instituted in countries around the world, usually as part of eugenics programs intended to prevent the reproduction of members of the population considered to be carriers of defective genetic traits.

Welfare state Government promoting its peoples welfare

The welfare state is a form of government in which the state protects and promotes the economic and social well-being of the citizens, based upon the principles of equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The term is associated with the comprehensive measures of social insurance adopted in 1948 by Great Britain, with sociologist T. H. Marshall having described the modern welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.

Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs.

Shapiro co-authored Black Wealth/White Wealth with Professor Melvin L. Oliver, which was originally published in 1995; a tenth-anniversary edition was published in 2006. Black Wealth/White Wealth investigates racial inequality in the United States, however, what sets Black Wealth/White Wealth apart from the numerous other works on racial inequality from this time period is that Shapiro and Oliver examine racial inequality through the lens of wealth. The book demonstrates that a huge wealth gap exists between white and black Americans (according to the book, black families have, on average, 10 cents of wealth for every dollar white families have). Although the income gap between whites and blacks has narrowed, Shapiro and Oliver argue that the remarkable differences in wealth, and the impact that these differences have on housing, education, and more. Both also challenge the notion of growing equality between races in the United States. [3]

Racial inequality in the United States refers to social advantages and disparities that affect different races within the United States. These inequities may be manifested in the distribution of wealth, power, and life opportunities afforded to people based on their race or ethnicity, both historic and modern. These can also be seen as a result of historic oppression, inequality of inheritance, or overall prejudice, especially against minority groups.

Wealth abundance of value

Wealth is the abundance of valuable financial assets or physical possessions which can be converted into a form that can be used for transactions. This includes the core meaning as held in the originating old English word weal, which is from an Indo-European word stem. A community, region or country that possesses an abundance of such possessions or resources to the benefit of the common good is known as wealthy.

Economic inequality divergence in economic well-being within a group

Economic inequality covers a wide variety of topics. It can refer to either income distribution or the distribution of wealth. Besides economic inequality between countries or states, there are important types of economic inequality between different groups of people.

Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States is a textbook on American social inequality compiled by Thomas Shapiro with contributions from classical and contemporary writers. Great Divides has gone through three editions; the first was published in 1998, and the other two editions followed in 2001 and 2005. According to Shapiro, the purpose of Great Divides is to examine the barriers between groups and individuals and to evaluate the impact that these barriers have had, and continue to have, on American society. Additionally, and unlike existing readers on social inequality, Shapiro seeks to meld older, more famous texts (from authors such as Max Weber and W. E. B. Du Bois) with cutting-edge research on the subject of inequality, thereby creating a more comprehensive and challenging text for students. [4]

Social inequality

Social inequality occurs when resources in a given society are distributed unevenly, typically through norms of allocation, that engender specific patterns along lines of socially defined categories of persons. It is the differentiation preference of access of social goods in the society brought about by power, religion, kinship, prestige, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and class. The social rights include labor market, the source of income, health care, and freedom of speech, education, political representation, and participation. Social inequality linked to economic inequality, usually described on the basis of the unequal distribution of income or wealth, is a frequently studied type of social inequality. Though the disciplines of economics and sociology generally use different theoretical approaches to examine and explain economic inequality, both fields are actively involved in researching this inequality. However, social and natural resources other than purely economic resources are also unevenly distributed in most societies and may contribute to social status. Norms of allocation can also affect the distribution of rights and privileges, social power, access to public goods such as education or the judicial system, adequate housing, transportation, credit and financial services such as banking and other social goods and services.

Max Weber German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist. His ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founders of sociology. Weber was a key proponent of methodological anti-positivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive means, based on understanding the purpose and meaning that individuals attach to their own actions. Unlike Durkheim, he did not believe in mono-causality and rather proposed that for any outcome there can be multiple causes.

W. E. B. Du Bois American sociologist, historian, activist and writer

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

In his 2004 publication The Hidden Cost of Being African American, Shapiro focuses on the importance of family wealth and the central role that it plays in passing down racial inequality from generation to generation in the United States. Drawing from interviews with 182 black, white and Latino families with school aged children in Boston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis, Shapiro argues that there continues to be a substantial racial wealth gap in the United States. Shapiro also claims that families lacking financial assets, characteristically the African American population, are hindered from becoming upwardly mobile in American society. 3/4 of the people that Shapiro interviewed were middle class and 1/4 were working class or poor. These same inherited, transformative assets are leveraged by whites, enabling them to take fuller advantage of economic opportunities and accumulate additional wealth, what many refer to as White privilege. This vicious cycle, Shapiro argues, has the effect of perpetuating and worsening racial inequality in the United States. Shapiro focuses on the “big picture” of wealth dynamics in the United States and explores how family money effects racial inequality. His book is organized around the ideas that inheritance and racial discrimination are making inequality between whites and African Americans worse. He coins the term "transformative assets" as money that is acquired through family that allows for social mobility beyond what their current income level would allow for. He shows that different starting lines of wealth for different people has a huge impact on inequalities and that race plays a huge role in determining your starting place. In terms of racial equality, inherited wealth and housing discrimination limit educational and employment gains which have a huge impact on social mobility. [5] More narrowly, Shapiro also focuses on the advantages that transformative assets have on the value of housing and the subsequent quality of neighborhoods and schools, to the additional benefit of whites and disadvantage of blacks. [6]

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

White privilege is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. Academic perspectives such as critical race theory and whiteness studies use the concept to analyze how racism and racialized societies affect the lives of white or white-skinned people.

In his 2017 book, Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, & Threatens Our Future, Shapiro argues that wealth disparities and racial inequities must be understood in tandem. Following nearly two hundred families of different races and income levels over a period of twelve years, Shapiro's research vividly documents the recession's toll on parents and children, the ways families use wealth to manage crises and create opportunities, and the real reasons some families build wealth while others struggle in poverty.


Books [1] [7]

  • Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (with Melvin L. Oliver). Tenth Anniversary Edition. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States. Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
  • The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (with Melvin L. Oliver). New York: Routledge, 1995.
  • Population Control Politics: Women, Sterilization, and Reproductive Choice. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985.

Selected Articles

  • "Economic (In)Security: The Experience of the African-American and Latino Middle Classes" (with Jennifer Wheary, Tamara Draut, and Tatajana Meschede). Demos and IASP. February, 2008.
  • “By A Thread: The New Experience of America’s Middle Class” (with Jennifer Wheary and Tamara Draut). Demos and IASP. November, 2007.
  • “Race, Homeownership and Wealth.“ Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 20. (2006).
  • “The Racial Wealth Gap.“ African Americans and the U.S. Economy. Ed. Conrad, Whitehead, Mason & Stewart. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
  • “Good Neighborhoods, Good Schools: Race and the Good Choices of White Families (with Heather Johnson).“ White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism. Ed. Doan, Ashley & Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Routledge, 2003.
  • “Wealth of a Nation: A Reassessment of Asset Inequality in America Shows at Least One Third of Households Are Asset-Poor“ (with Melvin L. Oliver). The American Journal of Economics and Sociology . Vol. 49, No. 2. (Apr., 1990), pp. 129–151.


Personal life

Shapiro is married to Ruth Birnberg, and the couple has a son, Izak Shapiro.

See also

Related Research Articles

Inheritance practice of passing on property upon the death of individuals

Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights, and obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.

Color blindness, in sociology, is a concept describing the idea of a society where racial classifications do not limit a person's opportunities based on their race, or color, as well as race-neutral governmental policies that reject discrimination in any form, and said to promote the goal of racial equality. This ideal was important to the Civil Rights Movement and international anti-discrimination movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

Racial steering refers to the practice in which real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race. The term is used in the context of de facto residential segregation in the United States, and is often divided into two broad classes of conduct:

  1. Advising customers to purchase homes in particular neighborhoods on the basis of race
  2. Failing, on the basis of race, to show, or to inform buyers of homes that meet their specifications.

Institutionalized discrimination refers to the unjust and discriminatory mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals by society and its institutions as a whole, through unequal selection or bias, intentional or unintentional; as opposed to individuals making a conscious choice to discriminate. It stems from systemic stereotypical beliefs that are held by the vast majority living in a society where stereotypes and discrimination are the norm . Such discrimination is typically codified into the operating procedures, policies, laws, or objectives of such institutions. Members of minority groups such as populations of African descent in the U.S. are at a much higher risk of encountering these types of sociostructural disadvantage. Among the severe and long-lasting detrimental effects of institutionalized discrimination on affected populations are increased suicide rates, suppressed attainment of wealth and decreased access to health care.

Racial segregation in the United States Historical separation of African Americans from American white society

Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, includes the segregation or separation of access to facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines. The expression most often refers to the legally or socially enforced separation of African Americans from other races, but also applies to the general discrimination against people of color by white communities.

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Black capitalism is a political movement among African Americans, seeking to build wealth through the ownership and development of businesses. Black capitalism has traditionally focused on African-American businesses, although some critics and activists have also pushed for increased representation of Blacks in corporate America.

Wealth inequality in the United States

Wealth inequality in the United States is the unequal distribution of assets among residents of the United States. Wealth includes the values of homes, automobiles, personal valuables, businesses, savings, and investments. The net worth of U.S. households and non-profit organizations was $94.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, a record level both in nominal terms and purchasing power parity. If divided equally among 124 million U.S. households, this would be $760,000 per family; however, the bottom 50% of families, representing 62 million American households, average $11,000 net worth. From an international perspective, the difference in US median and mean wealth per adult is over 600%.

Housing inequality

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In the United States, despite the efforts of equality proponents, income inequality persists among races and ethnicities. Asian Americans have the highest average income, followed by white Americans, Latino Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. A variety of explanations for these differences have been proposed—such as differing access to education, two parent home family structure, high school dropout rates and experience of discrimination—and the topic is highly controversial.

The racial achievement gap in the United States refers to the educational disparities between various ethnic groups. It manifests itself in a variety of ways: among students, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to receive lower grades, score lower on standardized tests, drop out of high school, and they are less likely to enter and complete college than whites, who similarly score lower than East Asians who originate from the rich industrialized developed countries of Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China.

Structural inequality is defined as a condition where one category of people are attributed an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. This relationship is perpetuated and reinforced by a confluence of unequal relations in roles, functions, decisions, rights, and opportunities. As opposed to cultural inequality, which focuses on the individual decisions associated with these imbalances, structural inequality refers specifically to the inequalities that are systemically rooted in the normal operations of dominant social institutions, and can be divided into categories like residential segregation or healthcare, employment and educational discrimination.

Social mobility in South Africa refers to the movement of South Africans from one social class to another. it is the study of upward socio-economic change in status achievable by South Africans from generation to generation.


  1. 1 2 3 Brandeis University. Tom M Shapiro . Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  2. 1 2 Shapiro, Thomas M. Personal Interview. April 14, 2008.
  3. Shapiro, Thomas and Melvin L. Oliver. Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1995.
  4. Shapiro, Thomas. Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States. Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
  5. Brandeis University. . Retrieved November 15, 2008.
  6. Shapiro, Thomas. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  7. WorldCat. Results for 'Thomas M. Shapiro' . Retrieved April 16, 2008.