Does Skin Tone Matter?: Immigrant Mobility in the U.S. Labor Market

JooHee Han , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A rich literature documents the negative association between a dark skin tone and many dimensions of U.S.-born Americans’ life chances. Few studies explore the effect of skin tone on immigrant incorporation longitudinally. I analyze data from the new immigrant survey 2003 to examine how skin tone is associated with occupational achievement at three time points: the last job held abroad, the first job held in the U.S., and the current job. While I find no association between dark skin tone and occupational status in the job held before immigration, there is a negative association at both time points after immigration to the U.S., net of human and social capital, race/ethnicity, country of origin, gender, and age. Dark-skinned immigrants experience steeper downward mobility at arrival to the U.S. but slower subsequent upward mobility relative to light-skinned immigrants. Implications on “segmented assimilation,” multi-dimensionality of race, and the U.S. racial hierarchy are discussed.

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 Presented in Session 24. Immigrant Integration and Incorporation