Skin Shade Stratification and the Psychological Cost of Unemployment: Is there a Gradient for Black Females?

a group of women laughing and facing towards one another

Stratification Economics is an emerging framework that asserts that social phenomena such as group identity, which influence how members of a group are treated and respond to life course developments, must be considered to obtain a full understanding of divergent life outcomes both across and within groups.

Colorism is the allocation of privilege and disadvantage according to the lightness or darkness of one’s skin, with favoritism typically granted to those with lighter skin. In theory, the simplistic black/white dichotomy masks the within-group heterogeneity of black women where lighter-complexioned black women might receive better social treatment as a result of their closer proximity to the more socially privileged white “in-group.”

This paper aims to use insights from both colorism and stratification economics to evaluate if emotional damage associated with unemployment is greater for darker complexion black women.

Key Findings

  • Black women who are subject to unemployment during the past year are 2.6 % more likely to experience their first bout of depression in the past year than persons who were employed throughout the past half year. Those classified as medium skin shade have the same chance of suffering from depression as those with light skin.
  • In addition, black women with dark skin are also equally likely to suffer from depression for the first time during the past year as those with light skin. However, the probability of suffering from depression for black women with dark skin is significantly greater than for those with medium skin shade.
  • Perceptions of discrimination in general or at work do not differ significantly by skin tone. However, a larger share of dark skinned black women believe they are discriminated against because of their skin shade—by whites and blacks—and that they are shunted into less desirable work.
  • Dark skinned black women are even more likely than light complexioned black women, 17 %, to believe whites treat them unfairly because of their dark skin shade.
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