Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 91–116 | Cite as

Long-Term Earnings Differentials Between African American and White Men by Educational Level

  • Arthur Sakamoto
  • Christopher R. Tamborini
  • ChangHwan Kim
Original Research


This paper investigates long-term earnings differentials between African American and white men using data that match respondents in the Survey of Income and Program Participation to 30 years of their longitudinal earnings as recorded by the Social Security Administration. Given changing labor market conditions over three decades, we focus on how racial differentials vary by educational level because the latter has important and persistent effects on labor market outcomes over the course of an entire work career. The results show that the long-term earnings of African American men are more disadvantaged at lower levels of educational attainment. Controlling for demographic characteristics, work disability, and various indicators of educational achievement does not explain the lower long-term earnings of less-educated black men in comparison to less-educated white men. The interaction arises because black men without a high school degree have a larger number of years of zero earnings during their work careers. Other results show that this racial interaction by educational level is not apparent in cross-sectional data which do not provide information on the accumulation of zero earnings over the course of 30 years. We interpret these findings as indicating that compared to either less-educated white men or highly educated black men, the long-term earnings of less-educated African American men are likely to be more negatively affected by the consequences of residential and economic segregation, unemployment, being out of the labor force, activities in the informal economy, incarceration, and poorer health.


Long-term earnings Racial inequality Education Administrative data Work disability 



We thank the Editor and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments. This research was partially supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institute of Health (Grant No.: 1R03HD073464-01A1) and Spencer Foundation (Grant No.: 201400077). ChangHwan Kim also received support from the University of Kansas (General Research Fund #2301065). The views expressed in this study are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the U.S. Social Security Administration or any organization or entity of the federal government. The administrative data are accessible only at a secured site and for approved projects. SSA’s Disclosure Review Board has reviewed the statistics reported herein. For researchers with access to these data, our computer programs are available upon request.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Office of Policy Research & Retirement Policy, U.S. Social Security AdministrationWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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