Research Report Black Women and Vulnerable Work
Subtitle
Occupational Crowding of Black Women Lowers Their Wages and Well-Being
Ofronama Biu, Afia Adu-Gyamfi
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This study examines the representation of Black women in potentially vulnerable occupations, considering factors such as pay, benefits, hours, and alternative work arrangements. We use occupational crowding methodology to understand if Black women are under- or overrepresented in occupations that are more vulnerable, considering educational attainment and educational requirements of the work.

Although conventional economic theories attribute occupational segregation to educational attainment, occupational crowding controls for this factor. Discrimination likely plays a significant role when certain groups are disproportionately crowded in to more vulnerable occupations.

Why this matters

Employment has grave implications for workers’ well-being. Existing research on occupational crowding has found that women and people of color are crowded out of better-paying roles research while white men are crowded in. This work examines vulnerability beyond wages to understand how Black women are represented in occupations with varying benefit rates and hours as well as work arrangements.

What we found

These are our key findings:

  • Black women are more underrepresented in higher paying occupations across both race and gender—in contrast with white men, white women, and Black men.
  • Black women tended to be underrepresented in occupations with higher rates of employer-sponsored health insurance compared with white men but more overrepresented in occupations with higher retirement coverage rates compared with white women.
  • Black women are also overrepresented in occupations that have fewer hours compared with white men and Black men.
  • In alternative work, as the share of independent contractors and contract workers in occupations rises, the representation of Black women falls significantly compared with white men and Black men (and to white women as independent contractors). The share of temp agency workers in occupations (an arrangement with the lowest benefit rates and pay) is significantly associated with crowding scores for Black women compared with white men.


Ensuring Black women have access to the work they want involves creating equitable systems that make prosperity the goal, regardless of employment status. Some of our recommendations include the following:

  • End Employment Discrimination: This research highlights the importance of ensuring Black women’s equitable access to more secure employment, whether in the application or promotion stage. Researchers suggest the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) conduct a proactive audit of employers to assess discrimination in the hiring stage rather than only waiting for complaints to be filed.
  • Expand Collective Bargaining: Greater union coverage tends to increase wages, benefits, and schedule reliability. However, union coverage has fallen in recent decades and the need to bolster union power is apparent. Still, many workers in alternative arrangements, particularly independent contractors, do not have access to collective labor unions. The National Black Worker Center, in its Black Worker Bill of Rights, calls for all Black workers to have the right to organize. Other organizations are making efforts to organize workers, such as Drivers Union, which represents drivers in app-based services.
  • Improve Social Safety Net for Traditional and Alternative/Nonstandard Workers: Ensuring that protections exist for workers regardless of employment status, hours worked, connection to an employer, or participation in a collective bargaining organization is a priority. These protections could include improving retirement savings access, strengthening and protecting social security, expanding medical coverage, increasing the minimum wage, a federal jobs guarantee policy, and guaranteed income.

How we did it

We use occupational crowding methodology to assess whether Black women are under- or overrepresented in occupations and looked at how that representation related to occupational features and work arrangements (e.g., wages, benefits, hours, and the share of workers in occupations who are in different types of alternative work). This analysis considers the educational attainment and requirements of the work. We evaluate Black women’s representation relative to multiple groups, recognizing marginalization within race (compared with Black men), within gender (compared with white women), and across both race and gender (compared with white men).

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality Workforce Wealth and financial well-being Race and equity
Tags Income and wealth distribution Inequality and mobility Race, gender, class, and ethnicity Racial inequities in economic mobility Workers in low-wage jobs Work supports Workplace and industry studies Workplace protections Job markets and labor force Job opportunities Job quality and workplace standards Black/African American communities Women and girls Financial Well-Being Data Hub
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
Research Methods Quantitative data analysis