Light Skin vs. Dark Skin: Male Immigrants' Skin Color Can Affect Whether They Receive Employment

shutterstock_211835152
A study suggests that male immigrants with darker skin are at a disadvantage as potential employees. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Men with darker skin tones who immigrated to the United States are significantly less likely to gain employment, according to researchers from the University of Kansas (UK).

These unfortunate consequences of a darker skin tone were only found in men, even when controlling for education and race. For female immigrants, on the other hand, there was no significant statistical difference between women with light or dark skin color and their chances of gainful employment.

“Our findings suggest that the color lines are gendered, and that race alone is no longer enough to understand the current stratification system,” said Andrea Gomez Cervantes, a co-author of the study and doctoral candidate in sociology at UK, in a statement. “It is probable that meanings of femininity and masculinity are intertwined with those of skin color.”

The researchers used data from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey as well as follow-ups in 2007 and 2009, and conducted statistical models according to gender and race in order to control for skin color. The final sample size included 1,983 men and 1,516 women. During the study, researchers estimated employment rates for immigrants and tested their main hypothesis: does skin color matter for immigrants’ access to employment? The findings suggest that race alone is no longer a way to understand social stratification or class.

The influx of immigrants into the United States over the past few decades has changed the conversation about race. As more Asian and Latino immigrants come to the U.S., the issue of a white and black dichotomy is being left behind for one that is more complex, the study suggests. Descendants of Latin American and Asian immigrants are the fastest growing population, with U.S. Census experts predicting that by 2050, whites will comprise only 46 percent of the American population — racial minorities are expected double within that timeframe.

“The black/white racial divide may no longer fully predict the experiences and opportunities of those who do not neatly fit in the black/white dichotomy,” Gomez Cervantes said.

Racial discrimination and unemployment both negatively affect people’s health. Past research has found that the stress that arises from racial discrimination not only speeds the aging process but can also affect the health of newborn babies. What’s more, unemployment causes its own set of health problems; a 2014 study, for example, suggested that those who have been unemployed for over two years are more likely to be depressed. Together, these health effects provide an even greater reason to understand the changing dynamics of race and employment in the U.S., and find ways to ameliorate them.

Source: Gomez Cervantes A, Kim C, et al. Gendered Color Lines: The Effects of Skin Color On Immigrants’ Employment. At the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. 2015.

Join the Discussion