Some time during all of the time that the Duke rape scandal first erupted there was an interesting exchange in the comments section on my blog. A reader linked to this article, which includes the following quote:
Black and Asian women with bachelor’s degrees earn more money than similarly educated white women, and white men with four-year degrees still make more money than anyone else.
My immediate reaction was, no Black women don’t earn more than White women; where does this data come from? So I decided to go to the Census data and see what it revealed. Sure enough the 2004 Census reveals similar numbers, but I was still convinced that something was wrong with this picture. Then it hit me. What this measure does is compare all college educated men and women whether they are in the labor force full time, part time, or not at all. Are college educated Black women really faring better than their White female counterparts in the labor force? The answer is no. In fact, this is a great example of how statistics can be misread and or misleading.
In order to understand what is wrong with using this measure it is important to think about the idea of statistical controls. These figures did not control for the woman’s involvement in the work force. A slightly better comparison would be to look at people who are of similar education, and a similar labor force status. So I decided to look at only those college educated workers who were in the labor force full time year round. When you compare similarly situated women and the gap between White women and Black women reverses, so White women in this position are earning more. The table also shows that this holds true for those women with a high school education.
So what is going here? The explanation is actually simple. White women are more likely to be out of the labor force or in the labor force part time. This is largely because White women are frequently married to White men, who are the highest earners. White men’s much higher incomes make it feasible for White women to be less connected to the labor force, compared to Black women.
Another interesting thing to note about these charts is the position of Black men. College educated Black men earn more than all women, including White women, but they earn less than Asian, Latino, and White men. However, this pattern does not hold true for Black men with high school or less. Less educated White women earn more than less educated Black men.
Lately, I have heard several recent discussions insinuating that Black men are in a better economic position that White women; however, I think overall White women tend to be in a better financial position than Black men. I say this because the data in the two charts above reflects personal income. The vast majority of people do not live alone…they live in households or families.. The Census Bureau defines households and families as two different sets of living arrangements. Here is a quote:
Household A household includes all the people who occupy a housing unit as their usual place of residence. Family A group of two or more people who reside together and who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption.
Since the majority of Black men are married to or living with Black women and the vast majority of White women are married to or living with White men, their living situations are probably best measured by looking at household or family measures as the two tables on the right do. The first table looks at family incomes for both single mother households and married households, and it is not disaggregated by education.
The next table covers households. In this table I looked a four person households, and only those household where the head of household had a college degree or higher. It is evident from these tables that Black and Latinos fair particularly poorly compared to their Asian and White counterparts. While individual income is useful at gauging discrimination against individuals in the labor force, it is not as useful when examining the actually living conditions of people. The only people who this measure would be applicable to is people who live alone (this group is growing, but even many single people have roommates or others they share homes with
So let me get back to the main point here……Black women are not fairing as well as White women when it comes to their financial situation, and this difference cannot be explained away by the higher rate of single parenthood or lower level of education. When Black women and White women have similar levels of education and a similar position in the labor force (full-time, part time, or unemployed ), White women earn more (I actually did look up income for unemployed women, and unemployed White women do have more income coming in.). Unfortunately, the AP report mentioned in the beginning of this article failed to take account of the fact that many college educated White women are working part time or are taking time out of the work force, especially if they have a White male partner who is a high earner. This case is a prime example of how statistics can be misleading. Many people who read that article are probably convinced that Black women are truly fairing better in the job market than White women, but it is not so.
(Sorry that the graphs are so ugly….I’m having a hell of a time learning this program.) If you want to look up data on income, the following link has the data used in these graphs.
This is also posted at my blog Rachel’s Tavern.