Report | Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy (PREE)

Whiter jobs, higher wages: Occupational segregation and the lower wages of black men

Briefing Paper #288

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Press release

In 2008, the year of the election of the nation’s first black president, black men earned only 71% of what white men earned. In this report we examine how occupational segregation based on race is related to this disparity. We find that even after taking educational attainment into account, black men are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and underrepresented in high-wage jobs. Neither hard skills, soft skills, nor black men’s occupational interests provide convincing explanations for black male sorting into low-wage occupations.

The most plausible explanation we find is that labor market discrimination excludes many black men from high- wage jobs. Therefore, effectively combating employment discrimination will contribute significantly to closing the racial earnings gap and improving the socioeconomic position of black families and black communities.