Separate is still unequal: How patterns of occupational segregation impact pay for black women

By Madison Matthews and Valerie Wilson

August 7, 2018, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how long into 2018 an African American woman would have to work in order to be paid the same wages her white male counterpart was paid last year. On average, in 2017, black women workers were paid only 66 cents on the dollar relative to non-Hispanic white men, even after controlling for education, years of experience, and geographic location. A previous blog post dispels many of the myths behind why this pay gap exists, including the idea that the gap would be closed by black women getting more education or choosing higher paying jobs. In fact, black women earn less than white men at every level of education and even when they work in the same occupation. But even if changing jobs were an effective way to close the pay gap black women face—and it isn’t—more than half would need to change jobs in order to achieve occupational equity.

Figure A plots the “Duncan Segregation Index” (DSI) for black women and white men, overall and by education, based on individual occupation data from the American Community Survey (ACS). This is a common measure of occupational segregation, which, in this case identifies what percentage of working black women (or white men) would need to change jobs in order for black women and white men to be fully integrated across occupations. Values of the DSI can range from 0 percent (complete integration) to 100 percent (complete segregation).

As shown in Figure A, there has been little progress on reducing occupational segregation between black women and white men since 2000. From 2000 to 2016 (latest data year available), the DSI only changed from 59 percent to 56 percent. This means that on average, 56 percent of black women (or white men) would need to change occupations in order to achieve occupational equity, or full integration of these two groups in the workforce.

Given that differences in education and skills influence the sorting of workers into specific jobs, we also present estimates of the DSI by education level in Figure A. These estimates reveal that there is less occupational segregation between black women and white men at higher levels of education. In 2016, the DSI for black women and white men with a high school diploma or less was 62 percent, while for those with 1–2 years of college the index decreases marginally to 60 percent. Although the DSI is 19 percentage points lower for those with advanced degrees than for those with a high school education or less, no matter how much education a black woman invests in, there is still an extremely high probability that she will not be employed in the same job as a similarly educated white man. Half of working black women (or white men) with a bachelor’s degree and 43 percent of those with an advanced degree would need to change jobs in order to fully integrate black women and white men in the workforce at those levels of education.

Moving toward a more integrated workforce would not just create social benefits of greater racial and gender diversity in the workplace, but also narrow wage gaps and create greater economic mobility for black women. When occupational segregation occurs, it typically imposes an economic penalty on black women because, on average, they are segregated into lower-paying jobs while white men are segregated into higher-paying jobs.

Based on estimates of median annual wages reported in the ACS, pay disparities are fairly consistent across different levels of education. In 2016, black women with a high school degree or less earned 57.5 percent of what their white male counterparts with the same level of education made. Similarly black women with advanced degrees earned 59.6 percent of what white men with advanced degrees made. We note that since these pay ratios are based on annual wages reported in the ACS, they differ from the hourly wage ratios available from the State of Working America Data Library and other EPI publications (which are based CPS-ORG data). Nonetheless, the pattern is the same. The gap remains large even as the two demographic groups become more educated, and as suggested by our estimates of the Duncan Segregation Index, more integrated in the workplace.


Reposted from the EPI

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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