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Annual Income, Hourly Wages, and Identity Among Mexican-Americans and Other Latinos

Authors

  • Patrick L. Mason

    1. Department of Economics and African American Studies Program, Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida
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      Department of Economics and African American Studies Program, Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida. E-mail: Pmason@garnet.acns.fsu.edu. I gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Science Foundation (Proposal No. 0213300). I also thank three anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this article.


Abstract

This article examines heterogeneity and income inequality among Hispanic Americans. Two processes that influence Hispanic heterogeneity include acculturation and labor market discrimination because of skin shade/phenotype. I focus on Hispanics because of their variation in phenotype, color, nativity, and language usage and also because of their recent large-scale integration into a society that historically has been characterized by bipolar racial categories that are putatively based on phenotype. This process provides a natural experiment for appraising the relative importance of acculturation, discrimination, and income inequality. I use data from two periods, 1979 and 1989, to determine the stability of identity formation among Mexican-Americans and other Hispanics. I find strong incentives favoring acculturation among Mexican- and Cuban-Americans. Americans of Mexican and Cuban descent but less so Puerto Ricans are able to increase annual income and hourly wages by acculturating into a non-Hispanic white racial identity. However, neither the abandonment of Spanish nor the abandonment of a specifically Hispanic racial self-identity is sufficient to overcome the penalties associated with having a dark complexion and non-European phenotype.

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