Beyond Hispanic: Decomposing the earnings gap between Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans

Date of Completion

January 2000


Geography|Economics, Labor|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




This study addresses three main questions: (1) What contributes to the earnings disparities between the Latino subgroups? (2) To what extent do human characteristics explain the discrepancies? and (3) Do place of residence and components of place characteristics matter in explaining earnings attainment? Although my primary goal in this dissertation is to examine the earnings disparities between the groups, my study challenges the usefulness of the label “Hispanic” in future research. Hispanics may share a common language, but they are not homogeneous. We need to go beyond the pan-ethnic category, Latino/Hispanic, because of the distinct differences between each group Grouping all Latinos into one category distorts crucial differences that can help explain income attainment processes. In this study, I examine theories on income attainment and quantitatively test whether these factors explain the difference in earnings between the Latino subgroups. ^ This study advances stratification research by examining the earnings disparities among Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans. Studying the earnings disparities between Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans is important to stratification research for several reasons: (1) this research will affect the way we deal with the problems facing this group as a whole; (2) since this group varies in skills, we can get a better understanding of how human capital affects labor market outcomes; and (3) since these groups are geographically located in different parts of the country, we can go beyond human capital explanations and examine the effects of geographic location, what I call “places”, on earnings attainment. Thus, the Hispanic subgroups provide us with the essentials necessary to advance stratification research. ^ Four major points are supported: First, grouping Latinos into one category distorts crucial differences that may help explain earnings attainment; Second, the effects of human capital characteristics vary by ethnic group membership; Third, the relationship between human capital characteristics and ethnic group membership is moderated by place of residence; Finally, characteristics of place are important in examining earnings attainment. ^