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Race, Gender, and the Creative Class

Race, Gender, and the Creative Class
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The following post is an abridged excerpt from my new book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited.

When I first wrote Rise of the Creative Class, I looked at the creative class as one whole unit. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I wasn’t able to look inside this new class and how it might vary by race and gender. Over the ensuing decade, to the best of my knowledge, no one else did either. So when I got around to writing the revised edition of the book, Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, I decided to take a look. With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, we used the American Community Survey to look at the race and gender composition of the creative class. The findings, while not completely surprising, reflect the intersection of these three major fault-lines of American life.

A number of commentators have argued that women are better suited to the kinds of work demanded by the knowledge economy. Indeed, it is true that women make up the slight majority of the creative class, accounting for 52 percent of its members. It’s also true that a greater fraction of employed women hold creative class jobs (37.1 percent) than employed men (32.6 percent).

But Mellander and I found that creative class men earn about 40 percent more than creative class women—$82,009 versus $48,077—a gap of nearly $35,000. Some of this can be explained by differences in work experience, skills, education, and longer work hours. But even when we control for these factors, creative class men still outearn creative class women by a substantial $23,700—nearly 50 percent of the average salary for creative class women.

It will come as little surprise that men dominate the working class, holding more than 80 percent of such blue-collar jobs. Four in ten men are members of the working class, compared to just 6 percent of women.

It’s also not surprising that women hold the lion’s share of service class jobs—nearly two-thirds (62.2 percent). More than half of women (54 percent) hold service class jobs, compared to just 30 percent of men.

These statistics help explain the different ways that the crisis has affected women and men. Before the crisis struck, the unemployment rate was pretty similar for men and women—4.3 percent for men and 3.8 percent for women. By 2009, the differential had grown to more than two percentage points—9.5 percent for males and 7.1 percent for women. A large part of this difference comes from the concentration of women in the creative and service classes and men in the harder-hit working class.

Race is the source of substantial divides within the creative class. More than eight in ten (80.9 percent) of creative class jobs are held by whites, who make up just 74 percent of the nation’s population. The rest are more or less evenly split among the three remaining racial groups—African Americans (6.8 percent), Hispanics (6.2 percent), and Asians (6.1 percent).

There is an interesting racial division of labor, so to speak, within the three great socioeconomic classes. Asian-Americans are by far the most heavily represented in creative class work. Nearly one-half (47 percent) of them work in creative class jobs, compared to roughly one-third (34 percent) of whites, 24 percent of African-Americans, and 18 percent of Hispanics.

The service class is more evenly split across the races. Roughly 40 percent of whites and Hispanics do service class work, compared to 48.2 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Asians. Four in ten Hispanics are members of the working class, compared to 28 percent of blacks, 25 percent of whites, but just 16 percent of Asians.

The implications are sobering. Although the rise of the creative class has opened up new avenues of advancement for women and members of ethnic minorities, its existence has certainly failed to put an end to long-standing divisions of race and gender.  While my own research has found a strong association between centers of high-tech industry and communities that are more open toward immigrants and gays, it also found a troublingly strong negative correlation between high-tech concentrations and the percentage of the population that is non-white.

On October 8, 2011, the scholar and tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa sent out an apposite tweet on this subject: “More than 50% of Silicon Valley is foreign born. Less than 5% women, almost no blacks or Hispanics, sadly. A lot needs to be fixed.”

It certainly does. 

This post is an abridged and revised excerpt of material from The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, out this month from Basic Books.

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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