The influence of skin color on the likelihood of experiencing arrest in adulthood


Finkeldey, Jessica Grace (2014). The influence of skin color on the likelihood of experiencing arrest in adulthood.


Research has long documented that darker skinned people generally experience more
social and economic disadvantage than those with lighter skin, but little research has examined
the effect of skin tone on criminal
justice system outcomes. The few studies that have been
conducted tend to find darker black and Latino individuals are treated harsher than their lighter
counterparts, but most of these studies focus on disparities in sentencing. Only two studies have
examined the effect of skin color on police contact. In addition, researchers have yet to examine
how skin color affects CJS outcomes for other minority groups. Furthermore, most studies rely
on official institutional data. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent
Health, the current research examined the influence skin color has on adult arrests for black,
Latino, Asian, and white respondents. The current study is important because it goes beyond
studies on racial disparities in arrest by examining skin color as a characteristic associated with
race and ethnicity.
Analyses revealed that darker skinned individuals were more likely to
experience an arrest than those with lighter skin, although the relationship between skin tone and
arrest was moderated by gender within some racial/ethnic subgroups. Specifically, darker skin
tones were associated with adult arrests for black men, Latino men and women, Asian women,
and white men and women. In addition, age and irritability magnified the relationship between
skin color and arrest for Latinos. Notably, the relationship between skin tone and arrest for these
subgroups persisted even after controlling for deviant behavior; thus, darker skinned individuals
were not more likely to be arrested because they were more deviant. Furthermore, this study
found some evidence that other life outcomes, especially education, act as pathways that explain
why darker skin might lead to adult arrests. Overall, the current research indicates skin tone is an
important characteristic that affects the likelihood of experiencing an arrest in adulthood.


Reference Type


Book Title



Finkeldey, Jessica Grace

Series Author(s)

Demuth, S.

Year Published


Volume Number

Master of Arts




Bowling Green State University

Reference ID