Income vs. Race and Age FAQ: Income vs. Race and Age

SV has several holy cows, such as the belief in egalitarianism and meritocracy: everyone has an equal chance; it’s your skills that count, and there’s no discrimination. That’s certainly more true here than possibly anywhere else. I generally work in companies where there is an extremely wide range of backgrounds, ages, and so on.

Nevertheless, there is still a bit of racism and ageism. (Ageism is discrimination based on age: Young workers discriminate against older workers, such as “they won’t learn new tools,” “they’re not with it,” and so on.) The following two charts show that racism and ageism exist in SV.


In 1990, the latest data available with detailed income and employment breakdowns by race and occupation, whites made up 81% of managers and 71% of the professional workforce in Silicon Valley high-tech jobs. Meanwhile, in semi-skilled production jobs (blue-collar work,) whites made up only 21% of the workforce; Asians accounted for 40%, and Latinos were 18%. The average income for white men in 1989 was $52,999 compared to only $30,037 for Mexican-American men and $27,630 for Vietnamese men. Certain groups of Asians, most notably Japanese, Chinese, and Indian, have reached the upper tiers of SV income. Other Asian groups, particularly Vietnamese, Filipino, and Korean, remain in low-end assembly work.

In the following chart, we see that race and income are correlated. Certain ethnic or racial groups do much better than others because they share resources within their group.

Income by race in Silicon Valley

Much of this has to do with ethnic associations. The successful groups have strong associations that share resources, jobs, and help each other. See FAQ-networks for more.


Wages for older workers in information technology industries actually start to decline after approximately 20 years of experience. This is shown in the following chart. The first curve shows income in 1985. The second curve shows that by 1995, the salaries for senior workers began to fall after 20-21 years of experience.

Income by age in Silicon Valley

Furthermore, older workers often have a difficult time finding new employment after a layoff. They also face longer periods of unemployment while searching for new jobs.

Marketing must take a great part of the blame for ageism in computering: they broadcast the image that computer industry is mostly 20-something kids. Advertising on Yahoo and other sites show mostly young people working on computers. In reality, the average SV computer worker is 45 years old.

A partial solution for senior workers is to remove several years from their resumes. If you have 25 years of experience, well, the first ten aren’t really relevant anymore because those technologies probably don’t exist anymore. So perhaps state that you have 15 years of experience.

These charts and text are adapted by permission from Chris Benner’s book Flexible Work in the Information Economy: Labor Markets in Silicon Valley.