Differences in household income by skin color across the US and within the family


Kizer, Jessica (2018). Differences in household income by skin color across the US and within the family. 2018 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


Siblings differ in a variety of biological ways, including physical appearance, which National Geographic recently demonstrated when they put biracial, fraternal twin girls on the cover, one blonde, blue-eyed and light skinned and the other brunette with dark, brown eyes and skin. Although these sisters share a Jamaican father and a White, English mother, what remains to be seen is if they will be seen and treated by others as a different race. A growing body of work challenges the notion of race as a one-dimensional identity by arguing that race encompasses multiple dimensions, including how one self-identifies, how other people classify them, and phenotype, with social scientists increasingly examining how these varying aspects of race relate to people's life chances. For example, sociologists have compared how SES varies across groups based on racial identity and how they are classified by others, yet other scholars have demonstrated that family background is a crucial factor in the perpetuation of racial inequality. However, what remains to be done is a thorough investigation of how race may vary within families and whether these differences are related to siblings' life chances. I address this gap and improve upon prior studies with an underused, within-family approach using restricted-use Add Health data. I compare the relationship between skin color and adjusted household income at both the population-level and within-families using OLS. I conduct the population-level analyses using the nationally-representative sample of Asian American, Black, Latino, and Native American men and women and assess the relationship within families by analyzing the sibling sample with family fixed-effects. These within-family estimates allow me to compare siblings while holding family environment constant. I control for the interviewers' race, mother's education, nativity, marital status, and age. I find that perceived skin color is significantly associated with household income in the nationally-representative sample, with the relationship being larger for men than for women. That is, respondents with darker skin have significantly lower adjusted household income. Among siblings, I find that the relationship between complexion and household income remains significant, but that the magnitude of the relationship is smaller. Previous research shows that skin color is related to occupational prestige, thus I plan to include this in my analyses.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2018 Add Health Users Conference


Kizer, Jessica

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID