Cognitive skill, skill demands of jobs, and earnings among young European American, African American, and Mexican American workers

George Farkas, Paula England, Keven Vicknair, Barbara Stanek Kilbourne

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Do the cognitive skills possessed by an individual affect access to more cognitively demanding occupations and hence to the associated higher earnings? To what extent do differences between African Americans, U.S.-born Mexican Americans, and European Americans (Whites) in average cognitive skills account for the lower-skilled jobs and lower earnings of African Americans and Mexican Americans? From analyses of 1991 National Longitudinal Survey (NLSY) data for six groups defined by ethnicity and gender, we found that individual cognitive skill level (as assessed by standardized test scores) affects access to occupations requiring more cognitive skill, and affects wages levels, even when controlling for education, work experience, and other factors. Most of the effect of cognitive skills on earnings is direct; a smaller portion is indirect, through access to occupations requiring more cognitive skill. The lower average cognitive skill levels for African Americans and Mexican Americans explain a substantial proportion of the earnings gaps between these groups and European Americans. By contrast, cognitive skills explain none of the gender gap in pay within ethnic groups. We conclude that to understand or alter racial or ethnic inequalities in earnings, scholars and policy-makers must attend to social sources of group differences in cognitive skills, such as school, family, and neighborhood experiences.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)913-938
    Number of pages26
    JournalSocial Forces
    Volume75
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 1997

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    occupation
    worker
    ethnic inequality
    wage level
    Group
    gender
    ethnic group
    experience
    ethnicity
    school
    American
    Mexican Americans
    Workers
    African Americans
    education

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

    Cite this

    Cognitive skill, skill demands of jobs, and earnings among young European American, African American, and Mexican American workers. / Farkas, George; England, Paula; Vicknair, Keven; Kilbourne, Barbara Stanek.

    In: Social Forces, Vol. 75, No. 3, 03.1997, p. 913-938.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Farkas, George ; England, Paula ; Vicknair, Keven ; Kilbourne, Barbara Stanek. / Cognitive skill, skill demands of jobs, and earnings among young European American, African American, and Mexican American workers. In: Social Forces. 1997 ; Vol. 75, No. 3. pp. 913-938.
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