Vanderbilt University economist Joni Hersch found that legal immigrants to the United States who had darker complexions or were shorter earned less money than their fair-skinned or taller counterparts with similar jobs, training and backgrounds. Even swarthy whites from abroad earned less than those with lighter skin.
Immigrants with the lightest complexions earned, on average, about 8 to 15 percent more than those with the darkest skin tone after controlling for race and country of origin as well as for other factors related to earnings, including occupation, education, language skills, work history, type of visa and whether they were married to a U.S. citizen.
In fact, Hersch estimated that the negative impact of skin tone on earnings was equal to the benefit of education, with a particularly dark complexion virtually wiping out the advantage of education on earnings.
Taller immigrants also earned more, she found, with every extra inch worth about 1 percent in earnings.
Why should pale people earn more? “I don’t think that any explanation other than discrimination is possible—and I am not one to draw such inferences lightly,” Hersch said in an e-mail. “I am stunned by the strength and consistency of the findings, even controlling for race, even controlling for nationality, and … everything that could possibly matter.”