Dr. Fenaba Addo


Fenaba R. Addo, Ph.D., Associate Professor, is the Lorna Jorgensen Wendt Professor of Money, Relationships, and Equality (MORE) in the School of Human Ecology’s Department of Consumer Science at UW-Madison. Dr. Addo is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Financial Security, Institute for Research on Poverty, Center for Demography and Ecology, La Follette School of Public Affairs, and Department of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University and holds a B.S. in Economics from Duke University.

Recent Press

Few black families will benefit from the historic stock market rally

Yahoo Finance – June 5, 2020

With only a third of black families seeing a benefit from the stock market rise, more families are likely to have no cushion against the backdrop of massive job losses in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Although 59% of all adult black Americans were employed prior to the COVID-19 crisis, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that less than half (49.6%) now have a job.

The worry: that wealth inequality will only worsen.

“Wealth is assets minus liabilities,” Dr. Fenaba Addo, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison told Yahoo Finance. “But it means so much more: it’s power, it’s connections, it’s insurance.”

Middle Class Not a Level Playing Field for Blacks, New Duke Research Finds

Duke Today – May 12, 2020

The authors argue that the underlying resources of the black and white middle classes reflect vast disparities. Prior to the coronavirus spreading through America this spring and disproportionately ravaging the black population, the playing field wasn’t level.

“For Black Americans, the issue may not be restoring its middle class,” the authors write, “but constructing a robust middle class in the first place.

Education Trust Addresses Black Student Debt Crisis at D.C. Briefing

Diverse Issues in Higher Education – September 16, 2019

There is a debt crisis among African-American students on college and university campuses.

According to the college access nonprofit organization The Education Trust, Black borrowers have a 50-50 chance of defaulting on a federal loan within 12 years of entering college. Black borrowers are also over 150 percent more likely to default on a federal loan than their White peers.

Additionally, Black students who have completed a bachelor’s degree are 21 percent more likely to default on federal loans compared to 18 percent of White college dropouts.

Not only are Black students facing higher rates of debt, they are less likely to finish their college degrees.

Recent Publications

Debt Concordance and Relationship Quality: A Couple-Level Analysis

Journal of Family and Economic Issues – 2020

Despite a large literature on household finances and relationship quality, little is known about the degree of couple-level agreement on finances and its association with relationship outcomes. This study examines the relationship between financial concordance on household-level consumer debt and relationship quality, and the strength of the association after accounting for couple-level financial management practices. … Debt concordant couples had greater relationship satisfaction even after accounting for the outstanding debt amount, financial management practices such as income pooling, and joint purchase decisions, as well as relationship characteristics like their marital status, relationship duration, and the number of children in the household. We also found that disagreements related to financial issues attenuated the debt concordance and relationship quality association. These results highlight the importance of including objective measures of household finance when assessing relationship quality.

As Fewer Young Adults Wed, Married Couples’ Wealth Surpasses Others

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – 2019

As fewer young adults marry, marital formation has become increasingly stratified. Features of long-term financial stability, such as greater net worth, are positively associated with marriage among young households. Shifting trends in family structure over three decades combined with an increasing concentration of assets contributed to a smaller share of young adult households, i.e. married couples, having a larger concentration of housing wealth. At the same time, a growing proportion—unmarried young adults— have more financial vulnerability, specifically debt, during this transitional phase of the life course.

Clipped Wings: Closing the Wealth Gap for Millennial Women

Asset Funders Network – 2019

Millennial women are 37% more likely than GenXers to live below the poverty line

AFN’s latest report, in collaboration with the Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap (CWWG) and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development reveals the current economic reality for millennial women and the primary drivers contributing to their wealth inequities. The report, Clipped Wings: Closing the Wealth Gap for Millennial Women is the second in a series of publications that builds off AFN’s 2015 publication, Women & Wealth, exploring how the gender wealth gap impacts women.

Millennial women (born between 1980 and 1997) represent 31.5% of the female population in the U.S. yet they do not benefit from many economic policies and systems designed by, and built to meet the needs of, men as primary breadwinners. Clipped Wings illustrates how despite important gains in college attendance rates and career opportunities, millennial women’s wealth lags behind that of men. The median wealth holdings of single millennial men is still 162% greater than single millennial women.

Millennial women came of age during the Great Recession, the rise of mass incarceration, unprecedented student debt levels, and changing workforce dynamics. All of these factors contribute to the fact that millennial women are 37% more likely than Generation Xers (those born between 1965 to 1984) to be living below the federal poverty line and are more likely to be underemployed or unemployed than previous generations. Additionally, immigrant millennial women, particularly Latinx women, are often key financial contributors to their parents and extended families, which directly impacts their economic stability.

While Clipped Wings confirms that more research is needed to understand the full complexity of issues facing millennial women, this new brief demonstrates how there is a unique opportunity for philanthropy to support and pioneer groundbreaking work that can lead to a more economically just and inclusive society. Clipped Wings leaves no doubt that putting women at the center of future policy decisions and reimagining how our systems operate is the way to ensure greater economic prosperity for all future generations.

Read now to better understand the specific challenges facing millennial women and the strategies available to grantmakers guide future investments.

The Changing Nature of the Association Between Student Loan Debt and Marital Behavior in Young Adulthood

Journal of Family and Economic Issues – 2019

In this study, we compared young adults from the NLSY 1979 and the NLSY 1997 to examine how the relationship between student debt and the likelihood of marrying changed across cohorts, in light of the growing acceptance of non-marital cohabitation. In the 1997 cohort, student loan debt among college-attending young adults was associated with delays in marriage, but not in the 1979 cohort. Among men, the positive association between education debt and marriage in the 1979 cohort was no longer evident for the 1997 cohort of young men. Our findings provide further evidence that rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and that as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabiting first have increased.

Racial Disparities in Student Loan Debt and the Reproduction of the Fragile Black Middle Class

Sociology of Race and Ethnicity – 2018

Policy makers and scholars express concern about rising levels of student debt in the U.S. But surprisingly little of this conversation recognizes that debt is racialized, and disproportionately impacts youth of color, especially black youth. In this study, we expand on recent research on racial disparities in student debt, and ask whether black-white disparities in debt persist, decline, or increase across the early adult life course, examine possible mechanisms for racial disparities in student debt across early adulthood, and ask whether racial disparities in student debt contribute to black-white wealth inequality among a recent cohort of college-going young adults. We address these questions using nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth-1997, multilevel growth curve models, and linear decomposition methods. We have three key findings. First, we find that black-white disparities in debt increase across the early adult life course, and that previous research underestimates racial disparities in debt. Second, this racial disparity is partially explained by differences in the social background, postsecondary experiences, and disparities in attained social and economic status of black and white young adults. Third, we find that—compositionally—racial inequalities in student debt account for a substantial minority of the black-white wealth gap in early adulthood, and that this contribution increases across the early adult life course. We conclude that debt trajectories are more informative than point-in-time estimates, and that student debt may be a new mechanism of inequality that creates fragility in the next generation of the black middle class.

Born Without a Silver Spoon: Race, Wealth, & Unintended Childbearing

Journal of Family and Economic Issues – 2018

The United States has a surprisingly high rate of unintended fertility, particularly among women of color. Although studies have examined socioeconomic correlates of unintended fertility, the role of economic resources remains unclear. Wealth may provide an important context for whether a birth was intended or unintended. Moreover, staggering racial wealth disparities may contribute to racial/ethnic patterns of unintended childbearing. This study examines the linkages between wealth and unintended first births. Results suggest that net wealth is negatively related
to the probability of having an unintended first birth, controlling for a host of sociodemographic characteristics. We also use decomposition analysis to quantify wealth’s contribution to racial/ethnic disparities in unintended childbearing. Second only to marital status, differences in net wealth account for 9–17% of racial/ethnic disparities in unintended childbearing. Our results suggest that wealth is a significant and heretofore overlooked correlate of unintended childbearing.

The Millenial Racial Wealth Gap

Wealth inequality among different race and ethnic groups has been a defining feature of American society. However, new dynamics are emerging with the rise of the Millennial generation that will likely impact the extent of future divides. In this chapter, we examine racial wealth inequality among Millennial young adults. Along with summarizing wealth profiles of young Millennials of color, we explore wealth inequality within the context of historical legacies of black-white wealth inequality, the proliferation of debt—specifically student loan debt—and the on-going marital retreat. We also examine how the association of income and education with wealth vary significantly by race and ethnicity and contribute to pre-existing/intergenerational wealth gaps. If the trends we describe continue—and are ignored by policymakers—dramatic levels of inequality according to race and ethnicity will endure for decades to come.

How Filing for Legal Bankruptcy Affects Women’s Health

Scholars Strategy Network – 2017

Women are disproportionately more likely to declare bankruptcy after their family situations change, usually following a divorce or marital separation. This is not surprising, given that women and women with children are more likely to fall into poverty or lose wealth after marital disruptions. Declaring bankruptcy can be costly due to filing fees, additional court fees, and attorney bills – and can also drain resources in the long run because of wage garnishments, lower earnings, or because of a mark on personal credit records that raises interest rates on future borrowing. Debt-related financial hardships make it harder for women to accumulate savings; and such hardships can harm their wellbeing by making life more stressful and shrinking access to adequate healthcare.

Seeking Relief: Bankruptcy and Health Outcomes of Adult Women

Scholars Strategy Network: Population Health – 2017

During the last decades of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first, the scope of social welfare programs for financially distressed middle-class and near-poverty households have been on the decline. This is the same period in which wealth inequality increased and low-income and middle-class American households experienced some of the largest debt gains in recent history. Recent work suggests that the manifestation of poor socioeconomic status and economic disadvantages in midlife is increasingly tied to declines in female life expectancy. It is therefore important to understand whether programs to improve one’s economic status are beneficial as they may have unintended consequences for their overall well being.