How Multi-Ethnic Churches Could Help Close the Race Wage Gap

New research on the race wage gap points to the important role multi-ethnic churches can play in reducing race-based income disparities.

The race wage gap is highest in major metropolitan areas, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, economists Elizabeth Ananat at Duke University, Shihe Fu at Xiamen University and Stephen L. Ross at University of Connecticut found, much to their surprise. Though the large metro areas are thought by many to hold more progressive views about racial differences, the black-white wage gap was about 20 percent smaller in cities of around one million people. Another way of describing the finding is that the gap between black and white wages increases 2.5 percent for every million person increase in urban population.

The most interesting part of the study, "Race-Specific Agglomeration Economies: Social Distance and the Black-White Wage Gap," published in the April 2013, issue of The National Bureau of Economic Research, was the reason blacks made much less than whites in major metropolitan areas than in small cities. The answer, the researchers found, has to do with social networking.

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Social networking influences the sharing of information that aids job advancement. And, in the largest urban areas, that social networking is more likely to take place is social settings that are racially or ethnically homogenous, such eating lunch, going to parties, enjoying an after-work cocktail, and going to church.

In an NPR interview, Ananat explained it this way: "People of the same race are much more likely to have conversations where they share ideas. The fact is you just talk more about everything with people who you feel more comfortable with than with people you feel less comfortable with. And we know that one of the big predictors of who you feel comfortable with is whether you are of the same ethnicity."

Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once complained. The extent to which that continues to be true today, the research suggests, could impact race and ethnic wage differences. If one of the causes of the wage difference is segregated churches, multi-ethnic churches could contribute to a cure of the problem.

The research also suggests, though, that having people of many races worship in the same building is not sufficient. Social networking is the mechanism. In Christian lingo this translates to fellowship. If Christians of different races attend worship together, but fail to share their lives with one another, the problem that the research points to has not been addressed.

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