Generational Changes in Racial Inequality in Occupational Attainment, 1950-2010: A Synthetic Cohort Analysis

Wilson, Franklin
Working paper no. 2016-01


This paper analyzes age and cohort changes in the occupational attainment of Blacks and Whites born in successive decades from 1910 to 1979. Occupational attainment is operationalized as “occupational returns to education” and “earnings returns to occupation.” The primary objective is to determine whether the relative occupational attainment of Blacks of the baby-boom generation and Generation X improved over that of their great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. The results indicate that Blacks and Whites, and men and women improved their occupational attainment levels over those of previous birth cohorts. However, neither Black men of the baby-boom generation nor those of Generation X improved their occupational attainment relative to White men of the same age and born in the same decade. Moreover, on a per capita basis, Black men’s occupational status declined for the most recent birth cohorts. On the other hand, Black women seem to have improved their occupational status relative to White women, but the improvements fluctuated over the decades. These findings are discussed in relation to possible causes and limitations of this analysis