Study Finds Persisting Occupational Segregation Among Similarly Educated Blacks and Whites

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that over the past 20 years, the number of Black workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher has grown by nearly 5 million. The percentage of Black workers with a bachelor’s degree rose from 18.9 percent to 28.3 percent.

Yet despite these gains, there has not been a reduction in the racial wage gap, mainly due to the fact that Blacks with a college degree continue to face occupational segregation and end up in low-paying administrative positions.

The authors note that “considerable racial occupation segregation in the labor market persists today regardless of educational attainment and that observed segregation is substantially higher than would be expected at random, conditional on educational attainment, gender, and geography. We compare the types of occupations in which Black and White workers are disproportionately situated, and we show that this segregation has significant consequences for wage inequality between Black and White workers with and without four-year degrees. Overall, our results show that racial occupational desegregation has stalled in the past two decades.”

The analysis found that a sizable number of Black workers with bachelor’s degrees have positions as social workers or counselors. Neither of these roles, in contrast, appears in the list of top 10 positions for White workers with a bachelor’s degree. White workers with a bachelor’s degree are also more frequently employed as lawyers and judges, high school teachers, postsecondary teachers, supervisors of sales workers, and chief executives and legislators — all positions of greater authority and none of which appear on the list of top 10 jobs for Black workers with a bachelor’s degree. “Black workers are concentrated in a smaller range of positions relative to similarly educated White workers and a set of occupations that pay less than those in which their White peers are more concentrated,” the authors write. “We also find that Black workers with and without bachelor’s degrees, relative to their White peers, are underrepresented in positions of authority and are concentrated in lower quality jobs with limited upward mobility.”

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