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  • Writer's picturePeter Blair

Occupational Segregation Drives Persistent Inequality, Study Says

Photo of Harvard Professor, Peter Blair

'Education has long been hailed as the path to upward mobility in America. But new research points to limits of education as an economic escalator for Black workers.

In the past two decades, the number of Black workers with a four-year college degree or higher has more than doubled, to 4.8 million. But the income gains are far less than would be expected in a race-neutral labor market, a team of academic and nonprofit researchers found.


A key reason, they conclude, is the persistence of occupational segregation. Black workers with a college degree are more likely than their white peers to be employed in middle-wage jobs, like as social workers, tax examiners and education administrators.

The new report, published on Monday as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, is based on an analysis of U.S. census data and government surveys of households and businesses from 1980 to 2019.


“Education is important, but it’s no panacea,” said a member of the research group, Peter Q. Blair, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “And an education-only narrative misses other structural features of our society that have to change.”

“The core thing,” Dr. Blair said, “is how much race matters.”'


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