The Role of Incarceration in Racial Disparities in Gonorrhea and Syphilis

Christopher Cornwell, University of Georgia
Scott Cunningham, University of Georgia

From 1980 to 2000, the incarceration rate of Black males aged 15-44 grew from 3.17 to 10.04 percent, creating a significant imbalance in the sex ratio. We argue that this imbalance affects the terms of trade in sexual exchange, increasing concurrency, which in turn speeds the spread of STIs in the sexual network. To test our proposition, we examine the effect of incarceration on gonorrhea and syphilis incidence. We examine gonorrhea and syphilis because they have short incubation spells, making incidence a good gauge for contemporaneous sexual behavior. Using panel data on state, age and race-specific disease and incarceration over the 1981-2000 period, we find that a 1 point increase in the Black male incarceration generates 20 new cases (per 100,000) of gonorrhea among Black females. This result is precisely estimated and robust to variety of regression specifications. The effect of incarceration on syphilis is smaller and less robust.

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Presented in Poster Session 4