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

  • Howard Bodenhorn
  • Christopher S. Ruebeck

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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11732.pdf
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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
Note: DAE
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  1. 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.
  2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," NBER Chapters, in: Marriage, Family, Human Capital, and Fertility, pages 11-26 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. George J. Borjas, 1994. "The Economics of Immigration," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1667-1717, December.
  5. 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.
  6. Cotton, Jeremiah, 1988. "On the Decomposition of Wage Differentials," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(2), pages 236-43, May.
  7. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  8. Blau, Francine D & Graham, John W, 1990. "Black-White Differences in Wealth and Asset Composition," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 321-39, May.
  9. Mason, Patrick L., 2004. "Annual income, hourly wages, and identity Among Mexican Americans and other Latinos," MPRA Paper 11326, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  10. 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).
  11. 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.
  12. 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..
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