Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

State of the Discipline


A Critical Analysis1

Herbert J. Gansa1 c1

a1 Department of Sociology, Columbia University


The Moynihan Report of 1965 will soon be fifty years old, and some social scientists now venerate it as a sterling application of social science data and analysis by the federal government. This author, who was directly involved in events connected with the release of the Report, does not agree; this article examines the shortcomings of the Report. I argue that Moynihan's analysis, which intended to investigate the ties between Black male unemployment and the Black family, actually devoted most of its attention to the high proportion of single-parent families in the poor Black population, treating it as one symptom of a “tangle of pathology” that stood in the way of this population's escape from joblessness and poverty. Today, the Report is being hailed as having predicted the current and still worsening state of the poor Black family. Moynihan's work is also being reinterpreted as an early application of cultural analysis, thereby further drawing attention away from the job-related issues which led Moynihan to undertake his study. Moynihan himself made significant contributions to antipoverty policy later in his career, but his Report does not deserve the worship it continues to receive.

(Online publication October 24 2011)


  • Single Parent Family;
  • Tangle of Pathology;
  • Male Joblessness;
  • Racial Oppression;
  • Moynihan Report


c1 Herbert J. Gans, Department of Sociology, Columbia University, Knox Hall, 606 W. 122nd Street, MC 9649, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: hjg1@columbia.edu

Herbert J. Gans is the Robert S. Lynd Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in Social Planning and has taught at Columbia University since 1971. His primary research interests are: poverty and antipoverty policy; race and ethnicity; urban democracy and equality; and the news media. He is the author of a dozen books, his first being The Urban Villagers (1962), his latest Imagining America in 2033 (2008). He has held Guggenheim, Marshall, and Media Studies Center Fellowships and a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholarship and received ASA's Distinguished Scholarship award and lifetime merit awards from its Migration and Urban sections. He is a past President of the American Sociological Association and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


1 The author is grateful to Merlin Chowkwanyun and Alice O'Connor for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper and to Nathan Glazer, Nicholas Lemann, and James Patterson for answers to his several questions about the Report's history.