Skin Color Linked to Social Inequality in Contemporary Mexico, Study Shows

Oct. 6, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Despite the popular, state-sponsored ideology that denies the existence of prejudice based on racial or skin color differences in Mexico, a new study from The University of Texas at Austin provides evidence of profound social inequality by skin color.

According to the study, individuals with darker skin tones have less education, have lower status jobs and are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to be affluent.

Andrés Villarreal, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Population Research Center affiliate, will publish his finding in the October issue of American Sociological Review.

He found a high level of agreement among respondents of a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 participants about who belongs to three basic skin color categories (blanco/güero — or white; moreno claro — or light brown; and moreno oscuro — or dark brown). In addition, he investigated how skin color is associated with a person's socioeconomic status.

Respondents who are light brown have 29.5 percent lower odds of having a college education or more compared to those who are white, while those who are dark brown have 57.6 percent lower odds.

The difference in occupational status between light-brown and white respondents, and especially between dark-brown and white respondents, is substantially reduced once education level is introduced as a predictor. In other words, the disparity in access to education among respondents in different color categories may explain a large part, but not all, of the observed differences in occupational status.

Respondents in the lowest occupational categories, such as domestic workers, manual workers, drivers and security guards, are much more likely to be in the dark-brown category and less likely to be in the white category than are respondents in the highest status occupations, such as office supervisors, professional workers and employers. Only 9.4 percent of manual workers are considered white, compared with 28.4 percent of professionals. Light-brown workers have 25.2 percent lower odds of being a professional worker than whites, while a dark-brown respondent has 35.9 percent lower odds of being in the top two occupational categories than a white respondent.

"These differences in socioeconomic outcomes are, of course, insufficient to demonstrate the persistence of discriminatory practices against individuals based on the color of their skin," Villarreal says. "However, the fact that differences in occupational status across skin color categories cannot be fully explained by other factors, suggests that Mexicans with darker skin tones may in fact face discrimination in the labor market."

For more information, contact: Michelle Bryant, College of Liberal Arts, 512 232 4730;  Andres Villarreal, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-8309; Daniel Fowler, American Sociological Association, 202-527-7885.

53 Comments to "Skin Color Linked to Social Inequality in Contemporary Mexico, Study Shows"

1.  Adriana said on Oct. 8, 2010

It is such a shame and also embarrassing that skin color has an effect on education and professions.

2.  Erika said on Oct. 8, 2010

This may be an oversimplified observation but, humor me. Is it possible that most laborers are dark-skinned because they work outside? Maybe office workers are lighter because they spend most of their time indoors. What skin tones do their children have? I know it probably sounds stupid, but just a thought.

3.  Jorge Morales said on Oct. 9, 2010

This study is interesting, and I would like to have more information. I am teaching poverty and development at Itesm-Campus Cuernavaca.

Jorge Morales
Doctoral Candidate

4.  Dan Hemingson said on Oct. 9, 2010

What is the skin color comparison of Mexicans overall and what is the skin color comparison of respondents? What was the total number of respondents in each category? How were the reported percentages calculated, to the respondents or to the overall population? In what area of Mexico were the respondents sought?

5.  Progessisnotinevitable said on Oct. 11, 2010

The same pattern is present within the United States. The only difference is that here in the States, other groups, including Asian, African and Native Americans, are affected. It is so easy to focus our attention on the behavior of other groups outside of the U.S., while we continue to see the same patterns occur within our borders.

6.  Lety said on Oct. 11, 2010

Wow, people actually spent money to do this study. You've got to be kidding me. This is status quo in most nations in the world. I'm failing to understand why this was grant-worthy. Just in case anyone gets any more bright ideas to continue to study the obvious, let me spare you the trouble. It is the same in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia (you get the idea). Ask any Black Latino if they consider themselves Black or Latino and their reaction should say it all. The topper, "These differences...insufficient to demonstrate." LOL, nice. I'm sorry, but my first reaction to this "headline" was duh!

7.  Crystal said on Oct. 11, 2010

I am not surprised. If you look at the Mexican entertainers and beauty queens, you will see that they are light skinned. Look at Thalia and Paulina Rubio, as well as the current Miss Universe. All of them are light skinned.

8.  Ray said on Oct. 11, 2010

If economic and social outcomes are linked to discrimination based on skin color, then why do dark-skinned people from India seem to do so well in the U.S.?

9.  Reynold M said on Oct. 11, 2010

Racially Mexico is predominately Indian and mestizo. Mexicans of Spanish or other European nationalities are not crossing the border as illegals. The Indian/Mestizo is the "underdog" in Mexico.

10.  Hugh said on Oct. 12, 2010

Studies like this provide important data for lawmakers to use while introducing legislation to help socioeconomic groups struggling at the bottom of the work force. Affirmative action and labor laws in the United States would not have been passed without clear data to present to lawmakers. i applaud the authors of this study for helping to promote racial equality in Mexico, even if the results are not surprising.

11.  Karina said on Oct. 12, 2010

What's the point of this research? I understand that it's looking at discrimination, but so what?

Also, where did you get your 2,000 participants? Was it from the same area? Areas with a high population? Low population? Cities with universities? How about the smaller towns hours away from universities? Did the small towns have factories or construction?

I think all these factors affect how you can look at the data.

12.  BRB said on Oct. 12, 2010

People I know from Mexico will tell you that the level of predjudice and racism in that country far surpasses the United States. I am actually proud of the great strides we have made here in the U.S. @Progressisnotinevitable: You claim the same pattern in the U.S. is present but that is actually not the case. Asian Americans, Indian Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern descent have a higher average educational attainment level and income level on average than white Americans. How do you explain that? Pretty simple, the idea of working hard to get ahead in the U.S. still works for those willing to do it!

13.  Garza said on Oct. 12, 2010

I couldn't agree more with Lety's comment. I cannot believe that this "research" was grant worthy. lol! Even a blind person living in a Latin American country could have stated this as the truth without spending thousands of dollars in this so-called "investigation." I literally laughed out loud when I saw this on UT's front page.

14.  Sally Leach said on Oct. 12, 2010

The conclusion seems to apply to most societies I can think of. The real question is why. Knowing that would be grant-worthy and might bring us closer to determining how what seems so ingrained can be changed.

15.  KCP said on Oct. 12, 2010

Is this something new? The world knows color and color shades are used to discriminate. It happens everywhere. Check out whose name will be asked to appear on TV if we have two equally brilliant faculty (or when darker skinned faculty is even better)? :-)

16.  Marie said on Oct. 12, 2010

I've been telling people this for a long time now! Watching shows from Mexico, the famous people on telenovelas are usually white. I'm glad there is a study backing me up!

17.  ana alicia said on Oct. 12, 2010

i give my opinion with all my respect , but
WHAT`S THE POINT OF THIS RESEARCH? I dont get it and Im sorry but i disagree at all.

i don`t think that you can call "study reseach" just for asked 2 000 participants.

18.  Nancy said on Oct. 13, 2010

BRB, I disagree. You said "Asian Americans, Indian Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern descent have a higher average educational attainment level and income level on average than white Americans. How do you explain that?"

Here's the explanation: All of the nationalities you've mentioned are GIVEN money from our schools and government to attain the college degrees, while the white, middle class can't afford college for their kids. Enter the world of student loan and parent plus loan debt.

19.  Filioscotia said on Oct. 13, 2010

Here's a dirty secret not many people outside of Mexico know about. Mexico has a caste system. Pure Indians and those of mixed Indian and Spanish blood -- the mestizos --- make up about three fourths of Mexico's population. but they're at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

At the top of the ladder are the families of pure -- or nearly pure -- European descent. These people are descendants of the Conquistadors, and somehow they've managed to keep people of other ethnicities from marrying into their families and bloodlines.

These are the light-skinned blue eyed -- even blond haired Mexicans who look like any Caucasian on any street in the world. These people are Mexico's ruling upper class, even though they make up only about ten percent of Mexico's population.

20.  Jeanine said on Oct. 13, 2010

This issue of skin color discrimination in Mexico is at the very heart of the culture. Both my parents were born and raised in Mexico. Both being fair skinned to light brown, they too had this prejudice. It is so prevelent that the pure europeans keep very much within the same circles and for hundreds of years have been the ones with most the education and money. Nothing new to this study. I remember as a child always being told to stay out of the sun so as not to get dark. One ancestor married an american indian and in the others opinion that individual tainted the family. I believe it also subconsciously impacted who my siblings and myself married - all anglo americans.

21.  adam socki said on Oct. 13, 2010

duh theory.

22.  Yaa Antwi said on Oct. 14, 2010

Why spend money to 'research' something so obvious. It alll started from colonization. When the lighter skinned Europeans treated locals as second and third class citizens on the basis of the color of one's skin...So that is the situation everywhere not just in Mexico

23.  T Morrison said on Oct. 14, 2010

@ BRB:

I have to agree with you but only partically, being an educated African American myself. However, what you are missing in the conclusions from the study are the struggles that exist while trying to get to the top. Believe me, other people of color within the states are prejudiced against trying to make it to the top. You have to take into account historical oppression to those particular groups within the states. Asian Americans, Indian Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern descent have not been rooted in this country with large oppressed poplulations as long as say African Americans, Mexican Americans, or Native Americans. Of course, it doesn't mean they can't get there.

@ Marie:
Not all people on novelas are usually white, however anyone that is dark is usually a servant or farmhand wearing clothing that many times is almost clown-like.

24.  Jose said on Oct. 14, 2010

This study can be applied to pretty much all of Latin America, just check in Peru. If you are of a light skin color, you'll get a good job easily (and a good looking senorita, too). Also that is why the Argentinians think so highly of them. Their race is predominantly white, not like in most other countries in Latin America. Unfortunately the study can be applied to any country in the world. The media has coined these stereotypes that have affected the way people perceive beauty and success globally. (Just look at how many male African Americans want to marry a Caucasian female.) I do hope that some day skin color is not a factor in deciding a person's social position. For now I try to do my part as much as possible wherever I go.

25.  David said on Oct. 14, 2010

I noticed this skin color discrimination when i lived in Mexico in '91-'95. When i mentioned it to others, they totally disagreed. Nice to see a study that supports my observations.

26.  Luis said on Oct. 14, 2010

Yeah, this one was pretty obvious. It's obvious in ALL of Latin America. I am interested in reading the whole article when it comes out to see if it provides a previously unknown insight.

I always thought it was all due to 200+ years ago, the Europeans came and set up their profitable business with the "blessing" of the authorities, while everyone else was exploited (even up to the revolution 100 years ago). Three or four generations later, those rich white Europeans are now the rich white Mexicans while the poor native and mestizo Mexicans have had little chance to catch up. You see the same thing happen with African Americans in the U.S. trying to catch up to the rich white folk.

Are dark skinned people less educated because they are discriminated or are they less educated because they have access to fewer resources? Do they have access to fewer resources because they are discriminated today or because they were exploited 100+ years ago?

Asking 2,000 people is WAY too easy. Figure out how many white people in public schools go on to college and how many dark skinned people in private schools go to college. Break it down by groups, population, account for causality. Hopefully the full article will answer these questions.

Finally, don't get me wrong: the white (even some brown) high social class is heinously and disgustingly racist. However, I think this article is oversimplifying the problem.

27.  sally said on Oct. 14, 2010

Frankly a more interesting study would be: Does this trend hold true on all continents? If so, 1. What about people's experiences causes them to discriminate against darker skinned people? and 2. Why have darker skinned people been in the position to be discriminated against instead of the discriminator worldwide and over time? If not then what causes the phenomenon in the areas that it does exist? After finding "if" then find "why." That will assist with finding solutions.

28.  edwardseco said on Oct. 14, 2010

It's called a sample. Take a statistics class.

29.  J. T. Spence said on Oct. 14, 2010

I find it interesting that none of those who commented so far have mentioned an important new finding that is not part of what "everybody already knows." Namely:
"The difference in occupational status between light-brown and white respondents, and especially between dark-brown and white respondents, is substantially reduced once education level is introduced as a predictor."

Any study that contributes to our understanding the sources of group differences and how they might be mitigated is hardly a waste of time and money.

30.  Jaime Ronzón said on Oct. 14, 2010

I love the scientific slang... blanco/güero...

31.  Diana said on Oct. 14, 2010

I wonder if they took into account that as a manual worker, you tend to be darker because you are outside working, and perhaps may be out in the sun more in general. Whereas if you work inside an office, you may not get as much sun.

32.  kathy said on Oct. 14, 2010

What Lety said is EXACTLY right. haha. It made me LOL also. Just could have asked a Mexi that.

33.  Juan Tellez Sandoval said on Oct. 14, 2010

For people who are from Mexico, this is not a surprise at all. However, I would say that the real value of the study is that it puts numbers/statistics into it so that now we know the extent of the phenomenon.

34.  Maggie said on Oct. 14, 2010

Waste of money! It has been like this forever...If you take a look at the Golden Age of movie-making in Mexico, there are NO dark skinned actresses. Just look at Univision...when have you seen a successful dark Mexican? Look at the movies, "Mama Dolores" and "Rosas Blancas para mi Hermana Negra" with Libertad Lamarques (from Argentina) where they addressed the issue of racism and very well-noticed in Latin America.

35.  James said on Oct. 14, 2010

Racial discrimination in Mexico (or anywhere else) is not bad. It is not good. It is simply a fact of how people react to the actions and appearances of others. If they react differently than you - so what! If you think you are better (or worse) than someone else that is your right! You are not wrong or right, depending on your society. If your society chooses one way, and you are in agreement, you are right. If it chooses another way you are wrong. Liberty means you have the right to choose the society that makes you happy. whatever it is! In America each society has traditionally been known as a State that can change its society, if it wishes, by free elections.

36.  Wayne said on Oct. 14, 2010

All the reverse racists can jump on this study to validate quotas and social engineering. However, if you look at sports, entertainment and music in the U.S.A., you get a profoundly different result. Could it be that talent is unequally distributed for different life skills?

37.  Ortega said on Oct. 14, 2010

I am just shocked that the 'Indiano' designation was not explored, as it informs "skin color"! I am a Mexican, and I understand this whole issue not to be a 'skin color' heirarchy per se; rather I see a a heirarchy of heritage, in which people of European descent (who are incidentally, USUALLY, lighter-skinned) are typically of a higher class/socio-economic status than persons of native descent (Indianos), who are typically darker-skinned! Skin color has thus become a 'marker' of heritage/class, to be sure, but is a marker of a class designation ever a causal element in class studies? No.

This thesis feels very weak to me.

I just hope that the more in-depth version explores class issues as they relate skin color. Otherwise it's a trumped-up shallow observation. That all the Mexicans I know have probably already given more thought to.

38.  adam said on Oct. 14, 2010

I didn't ask for this e-mail but since you sent it...

What an amazing waste of research time and money. As a Ph.D. student in Anthropology, I am aware of the need for professors to publish, thereby justifying their position, but this was ridiculous. You needed a study to tell us the obvious. Someone ought o tell this professor to do something productive, and not (I suspect) merely politically correct. Surely the Sociology Department can demonstrate its relevance in a more effective and important way. It is studies like these, and professors I suspect, that make people wonder about our educational system and some of the people who inhabit it.

I was glad to see, judging by some of the other comments, that this fact was noticed by others.

39.  NICK LEON said on Oct. 14, 2010


40.  chantel said on Oct. 14, 2010

It really concerns me that a person like Erika can write something as ignorant as saying that they are dark because they are outside. I mean, yes, skin tone can be a result of tanning, but it appears to me she's missing the point of the arguement, which is, why aren't they being educated at the same rate. You can have a college degree and still work outside.

41.  FB said on Oct. 15, 2010

Contrary to some of the other comments, I feel that this particular study is truly valuable, even though it confirms what many of us already know. Many people in Mexico, particularly "gueros" or those in a high socioeconomic status, deny that this type of racism or social inequality exists. This research validates the sad reality that the rest of us observe in Mexico. Affluent Mexicans can no longer deny the phenomenon.

I would suggest to Professor Villareal that he and/or his colleagues also analyze the level of "success" and socioeconomic status of dark-skinned people who have attained a high level of education (e.g. doctors, architects, engineers, etc.) As someone who has lived in Mexico, I suspect he will find that those individuals, notwithstanding their intellect and college degrees, still do not receive the same level of respect or social acceptance among "gueros" or the wealthy (unless they already come from a privileged background).

42.  Gregory Chandler said on Oct. 15, 2010

One little discussed fact of illegal Mexican immigration into the United States is that the most of the illegal immigrants are the darker skinned Mexicans.

Therefore, illegal immigration is, to some extent, Mexico's conduct of sending its darker skinned nationals out of the nation.

43.  carlos said on Oct. 15, 2010

state-sponsored ideology? Could you give more information before make that affirmation?

44.  TR said on Oct. 16, 2010

A similar caste system based on skin tone may exist in India and Pakistan.

45.  Gregory Chandler said on Oct. 17, 2010

Good study

46.  Becky said on Oct. 18, 2010

I am pretty sure this is true for most countries that have been colonized by a European country. You could say the same about the U.S. (to a degree). Besides I agree with the comment below.. it probably has a lot to do with where people work..has the study taken anything like natural skin color or type of ethnic background into account?

47.  Amy said on Oct. 18, 2010

Could it be that people of color CHOOSE not to pursue those things, because they have no role models of similar color who have pursued education, high paying jobs, etc.?

I don't like this article because it suggests that these people are discriminated AGAINST for their color. Could it be that they have a choice, and do not take it?

I have a big problem with articles like this that don't run causal analysis. Are people discriminated against because of their skin color, or does skin color cause them to discriminate themselves? The article has a long way to go.

48.  Gio said on Oct. 18, 2010

Hmm, so what's new? I thought this was pretty obvious. Do we really need to have studies to bring "truth" to what many of us already know.

49.  Anil Mitra said on Oct. 18, 2010

I grew up in India where there are a number of kinds of discrimination and I know that at least many of those kinds of discrimination are illegal. This is also true where I now live: the US (I am not comparing the two countries.) The color of my skin would be light brown if I did not go out in the sun but I love the sun and so my skin color is usually medium brown. An American friend who had lived in Mexico once said to me "You would be regarded as very handsome if you lived in Mexico." That is rather ironic: I read in to her statement something like "You are a little dark for the US but would be considered fair in Mexico."

It is my experience that human beings have a tendency to discriminate against those who are different. I recall reading that the degree to which one is 'bigoted' is a function of upbringing, local norm, education. The article also claimed that 'xenophobia' may have a degree of genetic coding

The point about research showing the obvious can be frequently made about social research. However, in order to address issues it is good to have information that (a) can be shown to be objective and (b) is quantitative

What are the keys to overcoming discrimination? I do not know the answer. I suspect that there are those who do not care. I believe that intelligent government intervention is a good thing. Many government interventions in the US have been unsuccessful because they were unpopular (I believe that racism was one reason for their unpopularity--for example is a hiring quota system 'reverse discrimination' or an attempt to reverse existing discrimination.) We can learn from our failed attempts: different ways to address discrimination and different ways to package it

I also believe that we the people are important in reversing discrimination. Many of us who are against discrimination benefit from discrimination but are silent about it. I think it would be a good thing if more and more people spoke up and against discrimination wherever we see it

50.  Alicia said on Oct. 20, 2010

This was very obvious. It's also rather obvious why darker skinned people have less education than lighter ones. The lighter Mexicans have more Spanish in them, and darker ones have more Indian/Mestizo blood. The Spanish were richer, able to afford education, make/maintain their money, and pass it on to their equally light-skinned children, and the darker mexicans have to make do with what little money they have, and can't afford schooling.

51.  cg said on Oct. 20, 2010

I am sorry but I have to agree with some comments, this research was a waste. Really PHD professor what is so new about your findings? Can't believe we are wasting tax dollars in this type of "research" PHD Professors must maintain a very high degree of commitment to their field, please make good use of your position.

52.  Kathy Boas said on Oct. 24, 2010

I would like to see a study in which those in the lowest class were provided with financial support for the family and all the education that they could handle, and then offered opportunities to work at a white-collar level, with monitoring and assistance when needed.

Kathy Boas

53.  Ivan Villarreal said on Oct. 26, 2010

I am a high school student working on a project trying to find out why the word "Indio" is used as a "put-down" in Mexico.