Study: Skin tone bias affects immigrants' income
January 29, 2007
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.29.2007
By Travis Loller
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Light-skinned immigrants in the United States make more
money on average than those with darker complexions, and the chief reason
appears to be discrimination, a researcher says.
Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a
government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around
the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8
percent to 15 percent more than similar immigrants with much darker skin.
average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an
additional year of education," Hersch said.
study also found that taller immigrants earn more than shorter ones, with an
extra inch of height associated with a 1 percent increase in income.
researchers said the findings are consistent with other studies on color and
point to a skin-tone prejudice that goes beyond race.
took into consideration other factors that could affect wages, such as
English-language proficiency, education, occupation, race or country of
origin, and found that skin tone still seemed to make a difference in
means that if two similar immigrants from Bangladesh, for example, came to
the United States at the same time, with the same occupation and ability to
speak English, the lighter-skinned immigrant would make more money on
thought that once we controlled for race and nationality, I expected the
difference to go away, but even with people from the same country, the same
race — skin color really matters," Hersch said, "and height."
Although many cultures show a bias toward lighter skin, Hersch said her
analysis shows that the skin-color advantage was not because of preferential
treatment for light-skinned people in their country of origin. The bias, she
said, occurs in the U.S.
Economics professor Shelley White-Means of the University of
Tennessee-Memphis said the study adds to the growing body of evidence that
there is a "preference for whiteness" in America that goes beyond race.
Hersch drew her data from a 2003 federal survey of nearly 8,600 new
immigrants. The survey used an 11-point scale for measuring skin tone, in
which 0 represents an absence of color and 10 the darkest possible tone.
those nearly 8,600 participants, she focused on the more than 2,000 who were
working and whose skin tone had been recorded during face-to-face
William Darity Jr., an economics professor at the University of North
Carolina, said Hersch's findings are similar to a study he co-authored last
year on skin tone and wages among blacks.
estimate that dark- or medium-skinned blacks suffered a discriminatory
penalty of anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent relative to whites," he
said. "This suggests people cue into appearance and draw inferences about
capabilities and skills based on how they look."
Darity said it is not clear whether the bias is conscious or subconscious.
Hersch said her findings, which will be presented at the annual meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science next month in San
Francisco, could support discrimination lawsuits based not on race, but on
"There are very few color discrimination suits, but they are on the rise,"
"But these suits can be hard to prove."