Becky Pettit

Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

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About Becky

Pettit conducts research on the effects of incarceration on inequality. Her most recent research investigates how excluding inmates from household-based surveys biases estimates of black progress.


In the News

Becky Pettit quoted on prisoner populations by Ryan Cooper, "America's Insane Problem with Counting Prisoners" The Week, August 17, 2015.
Becky Pettit quoted on the demography of Black men in the U.S. by Justin Wolfers, David Leonhardt, and Kevin Quealy, "1.5 Million Missing Black Men" New York Times, April 20, 2015.
Becky Pettit's research on the mass incarceration of Black men discussed by A. Moore, "8 Ways the Incarceration of Black Men Distorted the Numbers Showing African-American Progress," Atlanta Black Star, October 10, 2014.
Guest to discuss the growth of black male incarceration over the last fifty years on PBS' The March @ 50: Episode 4, Becky Pettit, September 16, 2013.
Becky Pettit's research on prison as a means of keeping families in poverty (with Bruce Western) discussed by John Tierney, "Prison and the Poverty Trap," New York Times, February 18, 2013.
Becky Pettit quoted on the growing proportion of black men imprisoned by age 20 by Sam Roberts, "How Prisoners Make Us Look Good" New York Times, October 27, 2012.
"The Plight of Young, Black Men is Worse than You Think," Becky Pettit, Interview with Peter Coy, Businessweek, September 28, 2012.
Becky Pettit quoted on how the mass incarceration of black men has skewed demographic study findings (as reported in her new book, "Invisible Men"), "Why Surveys Should Pay Attention to Prisoners" The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2012.
Guest to discuss Mass Incarceration on Podcast: AAAS Science Update with Bob Hirschon, Becky Pettit, March 20, 2012.
Guest to discuss race and incarceration on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Becky Pettit, January 17, 2011.
Interview on financial status of formerly incarcerated individuals Becky Pettit, National Public Radio, October 18, 2010.
Becky Pettit's research on her book, Gendered Tradeoffs discussed by Steven Levingston, "Laws Fail to Remedy Workplace Inequality among Women," Washington Post, April 26, 2010.


"Mass Incarceration, Family Complexity, and the Reproduction of Childhood Disadvantage" (with Bryan Sykes). The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 654, no. 1 (2014): 127-149.
Examines the link between family complexity - measured by noncustodial parenthood and multiple-partner fertility - and incarceration.
"Degrees of Disadvantage: Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality in High School Completion " (with Stephanie Ewert and Bryan Sykes). The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651 (2013): 24-43.
Examines how the rise in incarceration and its disproportionate concentration among low-skill, young African American men influences estimates of educational attainment in the United States. Focuses on high school graduation rates and the persistent gap in attainment that exists between young black and white Americans.
Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress (Russell Sage Foundation, 2012).
Observes that our national data systems are based on assumptions which systematically exclude inmates and itinerant former inmates. Because inmates differ in systematic ways from individuals living in households, data gathered through household-based surveys offer a biased glimpse of the economic, political, demographic, and health experiences of the American population and the factors thought to produce them.
"Incarceration and Social Inequality" (with Bruce Western). Daedalus 139, no. 3 (2010): 8-19.
Argues that unions helped institutionalize norms of equity and reduced inequality of wages in both union and nonunion wages. Finds that the decline in private sector union membership from 1973 to 2007 explains a fifth to a third of the growth in wage inequality over that period.
Gendered Tradeoffs: Family, Social Policy, and Economic Inequality in 21 Countries (with Jennifer Hook) (Russell Sage Foundation, 2009).
Argues that there are tradeoffs between different aspects of gender inequality in the economy. Through the analysis of empirical data, we endeavor to explain how those tradeoffs are shaped by individuals, markets, and states. We show the contours of inequality across and within countries are shaped by individual characteristics and specific aspects of social policy that either relieve or concentrate the demands of caregiving within households – usually in the hands of women – and at the same time shape workplace expectations.