Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pigment Matters, And Pays

Vanderbilt University law and economics professor, Joni Hersch recently completed research on the impact of skin color on earning power among immigrants to the United States ("Study of Immigrants Links Lighter Skin And Higher Income," The New York Times, Sunday, January 28, 2007, A19).

Her findings are compelling and concerning.

In short, light-skinned persons earn more money on average than those with darker complexions.

The reason?

Simple discrimination on that basis.

Professor Hersch studied government surveys for 2,084 legal immigrants to the U. S. from around the world. She discovered that those with the lightest skin earned on average 8 to 15% more than similar immigrants who were born with darker skin.

"On average," Dr. Hersch said, "being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education."

Interestingly, the study considered other factors in the analysis such as English language proficiency, education, occupation, and racial or national background. Even after controlling for race, it was clear that skin color mattered.

For example, for two immigrants from Bangladesh with the same abilities, occupations and backgrounds, the lighter-skinned person would make more money than the darker-skinned individual.

The last paragraph of the article seems telling:

"Although many cultures show a bias toward lighter skin, she [Dr. Hersch] said her analysis showed that the skin-color advantage was not based on preferential treatment for light-skinned people in their country of origin. The bias, she said, occurs in the United States."


Anonymous said...

Wonder how a white person would fare in Zimbabwe? I feel sure that there are more dark skinned people doing well in the U.S. than Anglos in predominately dark-skinned countries. It sounds like another "blame the U.S." The study is ridiculous.

Daniel Gray said...

Anon - you ever been to Africa? I've been to Ghana, Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, and that's definitely not the impression I've gotten. Westerners (white people) are often put on a pedestal in Africa. Some of this is based on old tribal beliefs that white-skinned people were good spirits (angels). Seemed like everywhere I went in East Africa, people were saying "Mzungu (white man), give me money!"

Anonymous said...

The results of that study bite. They stink. I would have hoped that we would have advanced farther than simple pigmentation, but obviously not.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:45 a.m., the study is "ridiculous" only to those who refuse to face the harsh reality of how we often regard one another in this society. Your negative regard for open discussion helps no one.

Larry James said...

Daniel, thanks for the post. I was hoping someone like you would reflect on real life experiences in Africa. What you write here is in line with what others have told me across the years. I appreciate your insight.