An Analysis of Earnings


Jeffrey Lasbrook, SUNY Brockport

Learning Goals


  • Learning outcomes for this assignment include further honing analytical skills in terms of generating, reading, and interpreting rudimentary forms of data analysis. We increase our sophistication though by introducing a third variable into our crosstab analysis.

Other skills you will learn include:

  • Quantitative writing
  • Creating visual tools representing quantitative data in the form of charts or graphs
  • Translating data finding to inform decision making


Unfortunately, we don’t have the type of data necessary to examine all of these ideas as fully as they might warrant, but we can use census data to shed some general light on individual versus structural factors.

  • Objectives for this exercise include addressing the following questions:
  • Is there a relationship between education and earnings as human capital theorists contend?
  • Do the occupation or industry people work in influence at all the relationship between their education and earnings?
  • What about ascribed statuses like race and gender?
  • Do blacks and whites, men and women earn the same amount if they have equal levels of education
Context for Use

This exercise was developed for use in an upper-level sociology course. The exercise was presented as part of a unit to better understand the concepts of social class, wealth, and power by examining historical and contemporary data on financial resources. This is Part II of Jeffrey Lashbrook’s exercise, continuing off of “Current and Historic Patterns in the Distribution of Income.

Description and Teaching Materials

We’ve argued that societal stratification is “both a condition and a process” (Kerckhoff, 2000). The former captures what the distribution of valued resources (e.g., money, education) among other things look like in a society. The question, most simply, is ‘who gets what’? In this exercise, we’ll examine contemporary and historical data on financial resources. First, we’ll look at individual earnings, which is defined as the money a person makes from working and includes such things as wages, salary, or a form of self-employment and expressed as an annual amount. We’ll also investigate historical trends in family income. Looking at these financial resources replicates and complements some of our text’s (Chapter 5 in R. Rothman’s Inequality and Stratification, 4th ed.) discussion of economic inequality (e.g., family income, CEO pay, net worth). Our data come from various Census Bureau sources, including its decennial census and its monthly Current Population Survey.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity uses two customized data sets made from the 2000 Census and guides students through data manipulation using WebCHIP software found at DataCounts!. To open WebCHIP with the dataset for the activity, please see instructions and links in the exercise documents under teaching materials. For more information on how to use WebCHIP, see the How To section on DataCounts!