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Ethnolinguistic Diversity and the Provision of Public Goods: Experimental Evidence from South Africa

  • Justine Burns
  • Malcolm Keswell

    (SALDRU, School of Economics, University of Cape Town)

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    This paper utilises techniques in experimental economics to investigate the impact of racial identity on the provision of public goods. A large sample of Black and White undergraduate University students were recruited to participate in public goods games, where the racial composition of the groups was varied to include All White groups, All Black groups and mixed race groups (comprising Black and White students). The results show that contrary to predictions from social identity theory, racial homogeneity in a group does not uniformly predict higher contributions to the public pool. Rather, it would appear that observable racial identity may convey information about extensive heterogeneity as opposed to homogeneity, especially where race is highly correlated with diversity in other dimensions, such as ethnolinguistic diversity. In accordance with the established macroeconometric literature on the provision of public goods, the results presented in this study show that contributions to the public good are indeed increasing in the level of trust in a group, and declining in the extent of ethnolinguistic diversity and socio-economic need in the group. Moreover, while communication has a large and significant effect on contributions to the public pool, patterns of communication are a ected by the racial composition of the group, with Black students appearing to be more responsive to communications made by White colleagues as opposed to Black colleagues. Hence, communication is not effective at sustaining co-operation in racially homogenous Black groups, possibly because communication in these groups allows participants to verify the greater diversity on other dimensions amongst group members.

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    File URL: http://opensaldru.uct.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11090/165/2012_72.pdf?sequence=1
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    Paper provided by Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town in its series SALDRU Working Papers with number 72.

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    Date of creation: 2011
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    Handle: RePEc:ldr:wpaper:72
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    1. Cardenas, Juan-Camilo, 2003. "Real wealth and experimental cooperation: experiments in the field lab," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 263-289, April.
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