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Immigrants and the Whiter-Shade-of-Pale Bonus

By Richard Morin
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

When it comes to immigrants, apparently you can't be too tall or too white.

Vanderbilt University economist Joni Hersch found that legal immigrants to the United States who had darker complexions or were shorter earned less money than their fair-skinned or taller counterparts with similar jobs, training and backgrounds. Even swarthy whites from abroad earned less than those with lighter skin.

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 as well as 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.

In fact, Hersch estimated that the negative impact of skin tone on earnings was equal to 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 1 percent in earnings.

Hersch based her results on 2,084 men and women who participated in face-to-face interviews for the federally funded 2003 New Immigrant Survey. All of the respondents had been admitted to lawful permanent resident status during the seven-month period, May to November 2003. As part of the survey, interviewers also rated the skin tone of each individual on an 11-point scale ranging from zero to 10, with 10 representing the darkest possible skin color and zero the absence of color, or albinism.

Why should pale people earn more? "I don't think that any explanation other than discrimination is possible -- and I am not one to draw such inferences lightly," Hersch said in an e-mail. "I am stunned by the strength and consistency of the findings, even controlling for race, even controlling for nationality, and . . . everything that could possibly matter."

Your Car's Personality and Road Rage

Does your car have a good personality? Is it a "he" or a "she"?

The answers to those questions may indicate your propensity for road rage. In fact, how people view the "personality" of their cars may be a better indication of how aggressive they'll be behind the wheel than their own personalities, says researcher Jacob Benfield of Colorado State University.

Benfield and his colleagues surveyed 204 car-owning college students to measure the degree to which they gave human characteristics to their rides -- call it auto-anthropomorphism. They found that about half of all students thought of their car as being masculine or feminine, and more than one in four had named their cars -- results consistent with earlier studies of car owners.

The psychologists also gave students standard personality tests and measured their propensity for road rage or aggressive driving. Then they went a step further and asked the students to repeat the personality tests and ''imagine that your vehicle had a personality. Now rate the following items based on the vehicle's personality.''

They found that drivers who thought of their cars as being male or female "scored significantly higher than non-gender-vehicle drivers on verbal aggression, physical aggression, use of vehicle, driving anger, and pejorative labeling/verbally aggressive thinking," Benfield and his colleagues report in a forthcoming issue of Personality and Individual Differences.

When the researchers examined the results of the personality tests, they found that the personality of the car and driver were far from a perfect match. Moreover, they found that the perceived personality of the car sometimes was a better predictor of aggressive driving tendencies than the owner's personality.

For example, people who thought of their car as friendly were more likely to behave better on the road, even if they were not particularly friendly people. "If people perceive their Corolla to be a jerk, they might drive more aggressively than if they thought their Mustang had a nice personality," Benfield said.

The car name game proved to yield little of scientific interest. People who named their cars were no more or less aggressive on the road than those who didn't. That's a surprise, given some of the names the students told researchers they gave their cars.

Among Benfield's favorites: Lolita, the Mini-Pimp and the Sweat-Box of Death.

Who Would Have Thought?Chocolate as a Depression Cure, And Rationalizing a BMW

· "Mood State Effects of Chocolate" by Gordon Parker, et al., Journal of Affective Disorders, Vol. 92, Issues 2-3. Australian psychiatrists find that chocolate may satisfy a sweet tooth, but it also prolongs feelings of depression and anxiety.

· "Honestly, Why Are You Driving a BMW?" by Olof Johansson-Stenman and Peter Martinsson, Goteborg University in Goteborg, Sweden, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Vol. 60, Issue 2. Swedish economists conduct a survey and find that most Swedes considered their concern for status when purchasing a car to be minor in comparison with the status concerns of others. Most also believed that they were more environmentally concerned than other people.

Richard Morin is a senior editor at the Pew Research Center. This column is going on hiatus and will return later in the year.

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