“If You're Light You're Alright”: Light Skin Color as Social Capital for Women of Color

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This article uses two national survey data sets to analyze the effects of skin color on life outcomes for African American and Mexican American women. Using a historical framework of European colonialism and slavery, this article explains how skin color hierarchies were established and are maintained. The concept of social capital is used to explain how beauty, defined through light skin, works as capital and as a stratifying agent for women on the dimensions of education, income, and spousal status. The analysis shows that light skin predicts higher educational attainment for both groups of women. Light skin directly predicts higher personal earnings for African American women and indirectly affects personal earnings for Mexican American women. Light skin predicts higher spousal status for African American women but not for Mexican American women.