Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A law and economics professor at Vanderbilt, Dr. Joni Hersch, has recently published an interesting paper comparing the incomes of 2,084 legal immigants to the USA to their skin tone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, persons with lighter skintones were found to make more money on average than darker-skinned persons; in fact, 8-15% more. Taller immigrants made more than shorter ones, with a 1% increase in income for every extra inch of height.

Hersch 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 earnings.

That 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 average.

“I 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,” she said, “and height.”

Abstract here.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    January 30, 2007

    From the study:

    Using newly-available data from the New Immigrant Survey 2003, this paper shows that new lawful immigrants to the U.S. who have lighter skin color and are taller have higher earnings, controlling for extensive labor market and immigration status information, as well as for education, English language proficiency, outdoor work, occupation, ethnicity, race, and country of birth.

    I’d be interested in seeing exactly what is meant by “controlling” here. One thing about legal immigrants is that they are highly self-selected, and thus those who have lighter skin-tones would come from Scandinavia, Western Europe or East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, all of which are highly developed in comparison to places in Latin America and Africa.

  2. #2 Kagehi
    January 30, 2007

    Hmm. Did he take into consideration the very real fact that “white” people think too highly of themselves to take the shitty jobs that pay the least amount of money in every city? You find a whole hell of a lot more temp workers, ditch diggers, dish washers and construction workers, almost all paid the lowest minimum wage allowed by a state, who are immigrants than “anyone” who is white, or even necessarilly black. The perception to an immigrant is, “I am making more money than I ever did where I came from!”. The perception for an American is, “Why the hell do I want to get stuck picking up other people’s trash for the rest of my life for no money?” And those jobs pay that way because they always have.

    The height bit is a little odd though.

    Oh, and to add to Tyler’s comments, most people from Scandinavia, Western Europe, Japan or even South Korea are likely to be better educated, have better English skills and generally have much higher prospects for finding non-shit jobs that Latin Americans or Africans too. At some point you have to stop blaiming “racism” for everything and start recognizing that some of it is because of the bad education, poor language skills, low perceptions of worth (especially compaired to the often over inflated sense of worth some others have), unwillingness to challange the pay or conditions they work in, etc. In other words, if you can’t run a computer, you think the pay for digging a ditch is amazing and you can’t even order a fracking hamburger without a translator, maybe the problem *isn’t* that all the white people are being unfair to you…. Just a thought.

    Sadly, clowns like Dr. Joni Hersch often either ignore the obvious causes of the biases, or simply refuse to accept that there might be obvious ones that don’t involve the equal rights movement. To some people, it doesn’t matter *why* the bias exists, its very existence is an indictment and accusation against the people that aren’t effected by it. This isn’t a productive way to “fix” the bias, since it feeds into the perception of the supposed victims that they “are” victims and *someone else* needs to solve all the problems they have, while just simply pissing off the people that recognize that 50% or more of the problem is that some groups have almost a bigger persecution complex about unfairness in race relations as Christians do about the fact that everyone on the planet won’t immediately tattoo “Merry *Christ*-mas” on their ass to placate their delusions of unfairness.

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    January 30, 2007

    At some point you have to stop blaiming “racism” for everything and start recognizing that some of it is because of the bad education, poor language skills, low perceptions of worth (especially compaired to the often over inflated sense of worth some others have), unwillingness to challange the pay or conditions they work in, etc.

    This certainly is a true statement–racism isn’t the cause of all of societies’ ills. The author’s study is far from perfect, as Razib pointed out to me they used the skin on the hand as a measure of “darkness” which could have been skewed by the sun/outdoor work. A measure of the inside of the arm would have been less problematic.

    The hiring process relies on arbitrary distinctions of what qualifies as “professional.” How someone looks, a “professional appearance” is sure to make an impact on their hiring prospects, and all kinds of biases (on the side of the employer) will enter into that decision whether consciously or unconsciously. I do agree with you that a degree of personal responsibility exists in regards to “bettering your lot” or whatever. Not sure I’d throw the stats out with the bathwater though.

  4. #4 Bob Abu
    January 30, 2007

    I wonder is this academic fellow is one of the “experts” lawyers call to “prove” discrimination when (or if) racial or sexual disparities occur even though no obvious act of discrimination can be found?

    There’s a big list of these “experts” in legal publications. It is a small industry already but I guess there is always room for more.

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