The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 42, Issue 1–2, pp 155–177 | Cite as

Skin Shade Stratification and the Psychological Cost of Unemployment: Is there a Gradient for Black Females?

  • Timothy M. DietteEmail author
  • Arthur H. Goldsmith
  • Darrick Hamilton
  • William DarityJr.


The purpose of this paper is to formally evaluate whether the deleterious impact of unemployment on mental health increases as skin shade darkens for black women in the U.S. Using data drawn from the National Survey of American Life, we find strong evidence of a gradient on depression between skin shade and unemployment for black women. These findings are consistent with the premises of the emerging field of stratification economics. Moreover, the findings are robust to various definitions of skin shade. Unemployed black women with darker complexions are significantly more likely to suffer their first onset of depression than unemployed black females with lighter skin shade. While in some cases, lighter skinned black women appeared not to suffer adverse effects of unemployment compared to their employed counterparts, persons with dark complexions did not enjoy the same degree of protection from poor mental health.


Stratification economics Skin tone Phenotype Unemployment Mental health Depression 

JEL Classification

Z13 I1 J64 J15 



The authors acknowledge the comments and suggestions provided by Patrick Mason, Trevon Logan, the participants at the Second Wave Conference at The Ohio State University, and anonymous reviewers. Diette and Goldsmith are grateful for financial support provided by the Lenfest Summer Fellowships at Washington and Lee University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy M. Diette
    • 1
    Email author
  • Arthur H. Goldsmith
    • 1
  • Darrick Hamilton
    • 2
  • William DarityJr.
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsWashington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Milano–The New School for International Affairs, Management and Urban PolicyThe New SchoolNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Sanford School of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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