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Fetish for the fair-skinned

A research has found that legal immigrants with shorter statures or darker skin colours in the US earn lesser than their fair-skinned or taller counterparts, writes Shalini Kathuria Narang.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2007 19:20 IST

Like individuals, countries and cultures are imperfect and gray. More than once, my mainstream colleagues have questioned me about the arranged marriage culture in India and the fetish for fair complexion. Needless to say, these have not been moments of pride or pleasure.

While I am not of the opinion that two wrongs make a right, yet many a time, I have been tempted to talk about the bulimia in girls in US to highlight that prejudices on appearances is a global reality and not a problem of a particular nation.

This point has been reiterated by the findings of a recent study by economist Joni Hersch of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The researcher has found that legal immigrants with shorter statures or darker skin colors in the United States earn less money as compared to their fair-skinned or taller counterparts with similar jobs, training and backgrounds.

Immigrants with the lightest complexions earned, on average, about 8 to 15 percent more than those with the darkest skin tone after controlling for race and country of origin and for other factors related to earnings, including occupation, education, language skills, work history, type of visa and whether they were married to a U.S. citizen.

Hersch has also estimated that the negative impact of skin tone on earnings equals the benefit of education, with a particularly dark complexion virtually wiping out the advantage of education on earnings. Taller immigrants also earned more, she found, with every extra inch worth about one percent in earnings.

I can definitely relate and possibly attribute the lack of my pay raise to my tiny five feet two stature.

Hersch has based her results on study of 2,084 men and women via face-to-face interviews for the federally funded 2003 New Immigrant Survey. All of the respondents had acquired lawful permanent resident status during the seven-month period from May to November 2003.
 
Hersch said she considered various explanations for skin color's effect on wages, such as discrimination in country of birth, the possibility that darker skin color is caused by outdoor work, which is lower paying, and interviewer bias.

After ruling out those explanations, Hersch concludes that discrimination is the strongest explanation for higher earnings by lighter and taller immigrants.

"I was surprised and dismayed at how strong and persistent the skin color effect was even after I considered a whole series of alternative interpretations and explanations," she said.

Fair and Lovely, Anyone.

To Beat or Not To Beat

If you are wondering, I am talking about children, behavior, not baking, and eggs.

A recent bill by California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber is about making it illegal for parents to strike children younger than four years. The bill is inciting strong reaction from opponents and defenders.

The office of the San Francisco Bay Area Democrat has been flooded with critical calls and e-mails including some personal attacks since her local paper wrote about her intention earlier this month.

Lieber has said she plans to introduce a bill to make California the first state in US to make hitting of a toddler or an infant a crime and making the act a violation a misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a year in county jail.

Readers of our local newspaper have blasted the idea. "Although I don't believe in spanking I do not need some media-grubbing politician to tell me how to raise my kids," wrote one, but Lieber said she is confident that Governor Schwarzenegger will support.

In a recent interview the governor described how as a child he "got smacked about everything" by his father but has never spanked his own four children. He questioned how such a law could be enforced, but said he understands the desire to "get rid of the physical, the brutal behavior that some parents have."

Schwarzenegger's native Austria banned all corporal punishment of children in 1989. Another 15 nations, most in Europe, have done so, according to the non-profit Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio. California is one of 29 states including Illinois that ban corporal punishment in public schools.

However, the narrower scope of Lieber's bill and California's progressive tendency give it better odds of success, said Block, executive director of The Center for Effective Discipline.

Lieber said she has gotten plenty of encouragement, including from prosecutors but Lieber will likely be hard-pressed to get support from Republican lawmakers, who typically are wary of expanding government's role in family life.