AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Age-old stereotypes interact in complex ways when new arrivals look for jobs.

When immigrants enter American society, they encounter a web of prejudice blocking their path to success and well-being. A new study examines the effect of two potential strands of this obstruction—race and skin color—on employment among immigrant men and women, and finds surprisingly gendered results.

By analyzing data from the 2003 National Immigrant Survey (which studies documented immigrants), University of Kansas sociologists Andrea Gomez Cervantes and ChangHwan Kim found that darker-skinned male immigrants were less likely to have a job than lighter-skinned ones. (The survey tracked skin color on a scale ranging from 0, the lightest, to 9, the darkest.) For immigrant women, though, skin color didn’t affect their employment outcome as much as race did.

Here’s how the study puts its results, in a (not yet published) working paper:

Indeed, darker skin color lowers the likelihood of employment for male immigrants regardless of their race after controlling for human capital and demographic covariates, while skin color has no meaningful impact for female immigrants when race is controlled for.

The researchers considered a number of factors that might impact employment status, including education and time spent in the U.S. For male immigrants, though, skin color had a significant negative effect on job status even when all else was equal (including race). Darker-skinned men were less likely to have jobs than lighter-skinned men across the immigrant board.

For immigrant women, however, racial categories (and the associated stereotypes) mattered more than skin color. Black and Asian women, the study found, were particularly disadvantaged when it came to employment. But skin color didn’t make a statistical difference across racial groups, or within them, for women.

Cervantes suspects that implicit racial bias might explain some of the findings; for instance, people tend to automatically associate “masculine” traits such as fear, criminality, aggression, and dominance with darker skin tones. For dark-skinned men, that association might impede their job hunt. For women, more explicit racial stereotypes seem to come into play. In a way, being a woman might mediate the perceived hyper-masculine threat associated with darker skin, Cervantes says.

She and her colleagues call for more exploration into how race and gender influence the economic and social lives of America’s rapidly diversifying population. Here’s how they sum up their study’s implications:

Our findings suggest that the color lines are gendered, and that race alone is no longer enough to understand the current stratification system.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A stained glass artwork depicting two owls and geometric patterns
    Design

    The Brilliant Artist That Chicago, and the World, Nearly Forgot

    The idiosyncratic art of Edgar Miller (1899-1993) has long been hidden behind closed doors. Finally, Chicagoans are getting more opportunities to see it.

  2. Sunlight falls on a row of graves through tree branches.
    Environment

    ‘Aquamation’ Is Gaining Acceptance in America

    Some people see water cremation as a greener—and gentler—way to treat bodies after death, but only 15 states allow it for human remains.

  3. POV

    To Build a Better Bus System, Ask a Driver

    The people who know buses best have ideas about how to reform the system, according to a survey of 373 Brooklyn bus operators.

  4. Equity

    D.C.’s War Over Restaurant Tips Will Soon Go National

    The District’s voters will decide Initiative 77, which would raise the minimum wage on tipped employees. Why don’t workers support it?

  5. Fog is seen clearing around the Shard skyscraper in Londo.n.
    Design

    The Hidden Forces That Shape Cities

    It’s not always big leaders with big plans.