Women of Color

Because women of color are both women and racial minorities, they face a double jeopardy -- lower economic opportunities due to their race and their gender. This double jeopardy is reflected both in the jobs available to them and in their lower pay.

Among full-time workers, on average black women earn 66 percent of the weekly pay of white men, Hispanic women earn 59 percent, Asian women, 87 percent, and white women, 78 percent. In comparison, black men earn 72 percent; Hispanic men, 65 percent, and Asian men, 111 percent (they earn more because they have higher education levels) of the weekly earnings of white men. Thus, women of color earn less than men of color and also less than white women do.

Research indicates that the cause of these lower earnings includes subtle biases. As women, women of color face the social expectation of having to care for dependents, and the perception is often that they are not as dedicated of workers as their male counterparts. Or they are seen as less skilled. As minorities they often face prejudicial expectations common to their race -- that they are less skilled (in the case of black or Hispanic women) or lack leadership skills (in the case of Asian women).

My favorite studies are the experimental ones -- including one by Claudia Goldin and Celia Rouse, which finds that if women audition for orchestras behind a screen, so that the gender of the musician is unknown, they are more likely to be hired. Without the screen -- so that the judges know the auditioners are women -- they are less likely to be hired.

Apparently, it's human nature that people want to work with those who are like themselves -- they simply feel more comfortable around similar people, and women are perceived as vastly different in a white-male professional world. Those in the upper echelons of management often are not as comfortable working with women. So women are not hired. Or they are kept in lower-paying jobs where they are assistants or subordinates rather than peers or superiors. Studies have shown that mentoring networks favor protégés similar to mentors.

The same is true for people of color. They are seen as outsiders, and those who are hiring, often white men, simply don't feel comfortable hiring them. My favorite study on race is one by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, who sent out similar resumés (in terms of job qualifications) to employers, but with some resumés having characteristically black names and others having Anglo names. They found that applicants with black names like Jamal and Lakisha were less likely to be called for interviews than those with Anglo names like Brad and Emily, even when the qualifications were essentially the same.

Thus it appears that our racial and gender biases run deep. Another highly revealing study is of the implicit bias tests that you can take on the Internet. You look at faces of white people and faces of black people, as well as objects. A majority of Americans -- 88 percent of whites and 48 percent of blacks -- associate good or harmless things with white people and bad or dangerous objects with black people. Similarly, in such surveys women are generally associated with the liberal arts, and men, with the sciences.

Interviews with women of color confirm that they face more difficulties because of the combination of their race and gender. Scholars believe that the intersection of race and gender is complex, and that it changes depending on the situation examined, so that in some situations, race can be the predominant factor, and in others, gender can be. Scholars also believe that the effect of race and gender is not necessarily additive -- i.e., that the total penalty women of color experience may not add up to their separate race and gender parts. The intersection of race and gender can add on a third dimension of jeopardy or lessen the sum of the race and gender effects.

My own research has found that for black women's earnings, the intersection of race and gender seems to impart an additional penalty on top of their race and their gender. Apparently, the combination of race and gender is worse than the sum of their parts. The mechanism seems to work through the jobs black women are hired into -- which are usually the lower-paid women's occupations (like service work) or in the lower-paid men's industries (light as opposed to heavy manufacturing). For this reason it is especially dangerous to be a black woman -- as far as your paycheck is concerned. Despite some progress in opening formerly closed occupations, the double jeopardy of race and gender, it appears, is more persistent than we had all thought.