Population Research and Policy Review 22: 201–219, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Race, wages, and assimilation among Cuban immigrants
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Abstract. This study uses data from the 1980 and 1990 Census and the 1994–2000 Current
Population Survey to examine the determinants of earnings among male Cuban immigrants
in the U.S. by race. Nonwhite Cuban immigrants earn about 15 percent less than whites, on
average. Much of the racial wage gap is due to differences in educational attainment, age at
migration, and years in the U.S., but the gap remains at almost 4 percent after controlling for
such factors. Nonwhite Cuban immigrants also have lower returns to education than whites. A
comparison to white, non-Hispanic U.S. natives indicates that nonwhite Cubans not only earn
less initially than white Cubans on arrival in the U.S., but also do not signiﬁcantly close the
racial earnings gap over time.
Keywords: Cuba, immigrants, race
Cubans are generally regarded as among the more ‘successful’ immigrant
groups, with higher average earnings and faster wage growth rates than other
groups of Hispanic immigrants (Borjas 1982; Portes & Grosfoguel 1994).
However, racial differences in earnings among Cuban immigrants suggest a
more complicated story. Average incomes among black Cuban immigrants
were almost 40 percent less than among their white counterparts in 1990
(Garcia 1996). This study explores the extent of and reasons for differences
in wage levels and growth rates between white and nonwhite Cubans.
Cuba is unique among immigrant-sending countries for several reasons.
First, Cuba’s population is racially mixed, although estimates are sensitive to
how blacks and mixed-race individuals are classiﬁed. As of 1995, the racial
distribution of the Cuban population was estimated as 11 percent black, 51
percent mixed race, and 37 percent white (Central Intelligence Agency 2000).
One of the stated goals of the 1959 revolution was to create a racially blind
society. The Castro government promoted opportunities for blacks in employ-
ment and education, abolished all institutional forms of racial discrimination,
and condemned all individual forms of racism (Pedraza-Bailey 1985).
There are several reasons why race might affect wages and wage growth
among immigrants. Characteristics that affect earnings could differ systemat-
ically across racial groups. For example, nonwhites might have more limited