University of Massachusetts Medical School Faculty Publications


Skin color, sex, and educational attainment in the post-civil rights era

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Quantitative Health Sciences

Publication Date


Document Type



Race and Ethnicity | Sociology


We assess the relationship between skin color and educational attainment for native-born non-Hispanic Black and White men and women, using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. CARDIA is a medical cohort study with twenty years of social background data and a continuous measure of skin color, recorded as the percent of light reflected off skin. For Black men and women, we find a one-standard-deviation increase in skin lightness to be associated with a quarter-year increase in educational attainment. For White women, we find an association approximately equal in magnitude to that found for Black respondents, and the pattern of significance across educational transitions suggests that skin color for White women is not simply a proxy for family background. For White men, any relationship between skin color and attainment is not robust and, analyses suggest, might primarily reflect differences in family background. Findings suggest that discrimination on the basis of skin color may be less specific to race than previously thought.

DOI of Published Version



Soc Sci Res. 2013 Nov;42(6):1659-74. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.07.010. Epub 2013 Jul 24. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Social science research

PubMed ID