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Racial Diversity and Aggregate Productivity in U.S. Industries: 1980–2000


  • Chad Sparber

    () (Department of Economics, Colgate University, 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, NY 13346, USA)


This paper employs industry-level U.S. census data from 1980 to 2000 to assess the aggregate effects of racial diversity. While most international accounts find that diversity reduces productivity, I argue that the U.S. experience is more nuanced. Unqualified statements about the costs and merits of diversity are unwarranted, as racial heterogeneity increases productivity within many, but not all, industries. Sectors employing a large number of workers responsible for creative decision making and customer service experience gains from diversity, while industries characterized by high levels of group effort suffer losses. The results thus reconcile two competing literatures by suggesting that diversity improves decision making and problem solving but also encumbers common action and public goods provision.

Suggested Citation

  • Chad Sparber, 2009. "Racial Diversity and Aggregate Productivity in U.S. Industries: 1980–2000," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 829-856, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:75:3:y:2009:p:829-856

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kemeny, Thomas, 2013. "Immigrant diversity and economic development in cities: a critical review," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 58458, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Ager, Philipp & Brückner, Markus, 2013. "Cultural diversity and economic growth: Evidence from the US during the age of mass migration," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 76-97.
    3. Owen, Ann L. & Handley-Miner, Isaac, 2015. "Race, Class, Gender, and the Happiness of College Students," MPRA Paper 67078, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Trax, Michaela & Brunow, Stephan & Suedekum, Jens, 2015. "Cultural diversity and plant-level productivity," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 85-96.
    5. Parrotta, Pierpaolo & Pozzoli, Dario & Pytlikova, Mariola, 2010. "Does Labor Diversity Affect Firm Productivity?," Working Papers 10-12, University of Aarhus, Aarhus School of Business, Department of Economics.
    6. Ryusuke Ihara & Shizu Yamamoto, 2012. "Does labor diversity cause agglomeration in Japan?: an NEG approach with a covariance structure analysis," ERSA conference papers ersa12p430, European Regional Science Association.
    7. Giovanni Peri & Chad Sparber, 2011. "Highly Educated Immigrants and Native Occupational Choice," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(3), pages 385-411, July.
    8. Giovanni Peri & Chad Sparber, 2016. "Task Specialization, Immigration, and Wages," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: The Economics of International Migration, chapter 3, pages 81-115 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    9. Parrotta, Pierpaolo & Pozzoli, Dario & Pytlikova, Mariola, 2014. "Labor diversity and firm productivity," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 144-179.
    10. Wunnava, Phanindra V. & Mitra, Aniruddha & Prasch, Robert E., 2012. "Globalization, Institutions, and the Ethnic Divide: Recent Longitudinal Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 6459, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Ryusuke Ihara, 2011. "Agglomeration with the pros and cons of labor heterogeneity," ERSA conference papers ersa11p528, European Regional Science Association.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • O51 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - U.S.; Canada


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