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An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'

  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr.
  • Paul Torelli

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11334.

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Date of creation: May 2005
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11334
Note: LS
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  1. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2005. "The Black-White Test Score Gap Through Third Grade," NBER Working Papers 11049, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jeffrey R Kling & Jeffrey B Liebman & Lawrence F Katz, 2007. "Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(1), pages 83-119, 01.
  3. David Austen-Smith & Roland G. Fryer, 2003. "The Economics of 'Acting White'," NBER Working Papers 9904, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2002. "Identity and Schooling: Some Lessons for the Economics of Education," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1167-1201, December.
  5. Neal, Derek A & Johnson, William R, 1996. "The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 869-95, October.
  6. Federico Echenique & Roland G. Fryer Jr., 2005. "On the Measurement of Segregation," Labor and Demography 0503006, EconWPA.
  7. David Card & Jesse Rothstein, 2006. "Racial Segregation and the Black-White Test Score Gap," Working Papers 12a, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Education Research Section..
  8. repec:pri:indrel:dsp01m613mx58m is not listed on IDEAS
  9. 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.
  10. Roland G. Fryer, Jr. & Steven D. Levitt, 2002. "Understanding the Black-White Test Score Gap in the First Two Years of School," NBER Working Papers 8975, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. William Rodgers & William Spriggs, 1996. "What does the AFQT really measure: Race, wages, schooling and the AFQT score," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 24(4), pages 13-46, June.
  12. Linton C. Freeman, 1978. "Segregation in Social Networks," Sociological Methods & Research, SAGE Publishing, vol. 6(4), pages 411-429, May.
  13. Jeffrey R. Kling & Jens Ludwig & Lawrence F. Katz, 2004. "Neighborhood Effects on Crime for Female and Male Youth: Evidence from a Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment," NBER Working Papers 10777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Neal, Derek, 1997. "The Effects of Catholic Secondary Schooling on Educational Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 98-123, January.
  15. Kling, Jeffrey & Liebman, Jeffrey, 2004. "Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects on Youth," Working Paper Series rwp04-034, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  16. O'Neill, June, 1990. "The Role of Human Capital in Earnings Differences between Black and White Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 25-45, Fall.
  17. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
  19. Cook, Michael D & Evans, William N, 2000. "Families or Schools? Explaining the Convergence in White and Black Academic Performance," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(4), pages 729-54, October.
  20. Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2004. "Experimental Analysis of Neighborhood Effects on Youth," Working Papers 1, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  21. David Austen-Smith & Ronald G. Fryer, 2005. "An Economic Analysis of 'Acting White'," Discussion Papers 1399, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
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