Skin color, sex, and educational attainment in the post-civil rights era

Amelia R. Branigan*, Jeremy Freese, Assaf Patir, Thomas W. McDade, Kiang Liu, Catarina I. Kiefe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


We assess the relationship between skin color and educational attainment for native-born non-Hispanic Black and White men and women, using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. CARDIA is a medical cohort study with twenty years of social background data and a continuous measure of skin color, recorded as the percent of light reflected off skin. For Black men and women, we find a one-standard-deviation increase in skin lightness to be associated with a quarter-year increase in educational attainment. For White women, we find an association approximately equal in magnitude to that found for Black respondents, and the pattern of significance across educational transitions suggests that skin color for White women is not simply a proxy for family background. For White men, any relationship between skin color and attainment is not robust and, analyses suggest, might primarily reflect differences in family background. Findings suggest that discrimination on the basis of skin color may be less specific to race than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1659-1674
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • Educational attainment
  • Occupational prestige
  • Skin color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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