The economics of race and eugenic sterilization in North Carolina: 1958-1968

Econ Hum Biol. 2010 Jul;8(2):261-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2010.01.002. Epub 2010 Feb 2.


Theoretical justifications for state-sanctioned sterilization of individuals provided by Irving Fisher rationalized its racialization on grounds that certain non-white racial groups, particularly blacks due to their dysgenic biological and behavioral traits, retarded economic growth and should be bred out of existence. Fisher's rationale suggests that national or state level eugenic policies that sterilized the so-called biological and genetically unfit could have been racist in both design and effect by disproportionately targeting black Americans. We empirically explore this with data on eugenic sterilizations in the State of North Carolina between 1958 and 1968. Count data parameter estimates from a cross-county population allocation model of sterilization reveal that the probability of non-institutional and total sterilizations increased with a county's black population share-an effect not found for any other racial group in the population. Our results suggest that in North Carolina, eugenic sterilization policies were racially biased and genocidal.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Eugenics / methods
  • Eugenics / statistics & numerical data
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • North Carolina
  • Prejudice*
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / economics
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / history*
  • Sterilization, Involuntary / statistics & numerical data