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Colorism and African American Wealth: Evidence from the Nineteenth-Century South

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  • Howard Bodenhorn
  • Christopher S. Ruebeck

Abstract

Black is not always black. Subtle distinctions in skin tone translate into significant differences in outcomes. Data on more than 15,000 households interviewed during the 1860 federal census exhibit sharp differences in wealth holdings between white, mulatto, and black households in the urban South. We document these differences, investigate the relationships between wealth and the recorded household characteristics, and decompose the wealth gaps into treatment and characteristic effects. In addition to higher wealth holdings of white households as compared to free African-Americans in general, there are distinct differences between both the characteristics of and wealth of free mulatto and black households, whether male- or female-headed. While black-headed households' mean predicted log wealth was only 20% of white-headed households', mulatto-headed households' was nearly 50% that of whites'. The difference between light- and dark-complexion is highly significant in semi-log wealth regressions. In the decomposition of this wealth differential, treatment effects play a large role in explaining the wealth gap between all subpopulation pairs.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11732.

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Date of creation: Nov 2005
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Publication status: published as Howard Bodenhorn & Christopher Ruebeck, 2007. "Colourism and African–american wealth: evidence from the nineteenth-century south," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 599-620, July.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11732

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  1. Howard Bodenhorn & Christopher S. Ruebeck, 2003. "The Economics of Identity and the Endogeneity of Race," NBER Working Papers 9962, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Cotton, Jeremiah, 1988. "On the Decomposition of Wage Differentials," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(2), pages 236-43, May.
  3. Francine D. Blau & John W. Graham, 1990. "Black-White Differences in Wealth and Asset Composition," NBER Working Papers 2898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S11-S26, Part II, .
  5. George J. Borjas, 1994. "The Economics of Immigration," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1667-1717, December.
  6. Howard Bodenhorn, 2002. "The Complexion Gap: The Economic Consequences of Color among Free African Americans in the Rural Antebellum South," NBER Working Papers 8957, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Arthur H. Goldsmith & Darrick Hamilton & William Darity, Jr, 2007. "From Dark to Light: Skin Color and Wages Among African-Americans," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(4).
  8. Mason, Patrick L., 2004. "Annual income, hourly wages, and identity Among Mexican Americans and other Latinos," MPRA Paper 11326, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
  10. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
  11. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-46, July-Aug..
  12. Glenn C. Loury, 1998. "Discrimination in the Post-Civil Rights Era: Beyond Market Interactions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 117-126, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Howard Bodenhorn, 2006. "Colorism, Complexion Homogamy, and Household Wealth: Some Historical Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 256-260, May.
  2. Brian Duncan & Stephen Trejo, 2009. "Ancestry versus Ethnicity: The Complexity and Selectivity of Mexican Identification in the United States," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0901, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  3. Maloney, Thomas N. & Carson, Scott Alan, 2008. "Living standards in Black and White: Evidence from the heights of Ohio Prison inmates, 1829-1913," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 237-251, July.
  4. Roland G. Fryer, Jr & Lisa Kahn & Steven D. Levitt & Jörg L. Spenkuch, 2008. "The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents," NBER Working Papers 14192, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Howard Bodenhorn, 2010. "Manumission in Nineteenth Century Virginia," NBER Working Papers 15704, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Howard Bodenhorn, 2006. "Single Parenthood and Childhood Outcomes in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Urban South," NBER Working Papers 12056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Brian Duncan & Stephen J. Trejo, 2011. "Intermarriage and the Intergenerational Transmission of Ethnic Identity and Human Capital for Mexican Americans," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(2), pages 195 - 227.
  8. Aliya Saperstein & Aaron Gullickson, 2013. "A “Mulatto Escape Hatch” in the United States? Examining Evidence of Racial and Social Mobility During the Jim Crow Era," Demography, Springer, vol. 50(5), pages 1921-1942, October.
  9. Linda Datcher Loury, 2007. "Am I Still Too Black For You?: Schooling and Secular Change in Skin Tone Effects," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0712, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  10. Green, Tiffany L. & Hamilton, Tod G., 2013. "Beyond black and white: Color and mortality in post-reconstruction era North Carolina," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 148-159.
  11. Howard Bodenhorn, 2008. "Criminal Sentencing in Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania," NBER Working Papers 14283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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