Calculating Race: Racial Discrimination in Risk Assessment

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


Calculating Race: Racial Discrimination in Risk Assessment presents the historical relationship between statistical risk assessment and race in the United States. It illustrates how, through a reliance on the variable of race, actuarial science transformed the nature of racism and, in turn, helped usher racial disparities in wealth, incarceration, and housing from the nineteenth century into the twentieth. The monograph begins by investigating the development of statistical risk assessment explicitly based on race in the late-nineteenth-century life insurance industry. It then traces how such risk assessment migrated from industry to government, becoming a guiding force in parole decisions and in federal housing policy. Finally, it concludes with an analysis of “proxies” for race—statistical variables that correlate significantly with race—in order to demonstrate the persistent presence of race in risk assessment even after the anti-discrimination regulations won by the Civil Rights Movement. Offering readers a new perspective on the historical importance of actuarial science in structural racism, Calculating Race is a particularly timely contribution as Big Data and algorithmic decision-making increasingly pervade American life.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages160
ISBN (Electronic)9780197504031
ISBN (Print)9780197504000
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2020


  • race
  • racism
  • risk assessment
  • actuarial science
  • insurance
  • incarceration
  • housing policy
  • algorithms
  • United States
  • American history


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