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An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'

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  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr.
  • Paul Torelli

Abstract

There is a debate among social scientists regarding the existence of a peer externality commonly referred to as 'acting white.' Using a newly available data set (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health), which allows one to construct an objective measure of a student's popularity, we demonstrate that there are large racial differences in the relationship between popularity and academic achievement; our (albeit narrow) definition of 'acting white.' The effect is intensified among high achievers and in schools with more interracial contact, but non-existent among students in predominantly black schools or private schools. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a two-audience signaling model in which investments in education are thought to be indicative of an individual's opportunity costs of peer group loyalty. Other models we consider, such as self-sabotage among black youth or the presence of an oppositional culture, all contradict the data in important ways.

Suggested Citation

  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr. & Paul Torelli, 2005. "An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'," NBER Working Papers 11334, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11334
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    1. Card, David & Rothstein, Jesse, 2007. "Racial segregation and the black-white test score gap," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(11-12), pages 2158-2184, December.
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    18. David Austen-Smith & Roland G. Fryer, 2005. "An Economic Analysis of "Acting White"," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(2), pages 551-583.
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    20. repec:pri:indrel:dsp01m613mx58m is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education

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