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A Model of Social Interactions and Endogenous Poverty Traps


  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr.


This paper develops a model of social interactions and endogenous poverty traps. The key idea is captured in a framework in which the likelihood of future social interactions with members of one%u2019s group is partly determined by group-specific investments made by individuals. I prove three main results. First, some individuals expected to make group-specific capital investments are worse off because their observed decision is used as a litmus test of group loyalty %u2014 creating a tradeoff between human capital and cooperation among the group. Second, there exist equilibria which exhibit bi-polar human capital investment behavior by individuals of similar ability. Third, as social mobility increases this bi-polarization increases. The models predictions are consistent with the bifurcation of distinctively black names in the mid-1960s, the erosion of black neighborhoods in the 1970s, accusations of %u2018acting white,%u2019 and the efficacy of certain programs designed to encourage human capital acquisition.

Suggested Citation

  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr., 2006. "A Model of Social Interactions and Endogenous Poverty Traps," NBER Working Papers 12364, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12364
    Note: ED LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(3), pages 767-805.
    2. James Heckman, 2011. "Policies to foster human capital," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 3, pages 73-137.
    3. Edward L. Glaeser & David Laibson & Bruce Sacerdote, 2002. "An Economic Approach to Social Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(483), pages 437-458, November.
    4. Edward P. Lazear, 1999. "Culture and Language," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 95-126, December.
    5. 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.
    6. Borjas, George J, 1995. "Ethnicity, Neighborhoods, and Human-Capital Externalities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 365-390, June.
    7. Eli Berman, 2000. "Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice: An Economist's View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 905-953.
    8. Greif, Avner, 1994. "Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 912-950, October.
    9. George J. Borjas, 1992. "Ethnic Capital and Intergenerational Mobility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 123-150.
    10. Roland G. Fryer, Jr. & Paul Torelli, 2005. "An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'," NBER Working Papers 11334, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 1998. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," Research in Economics 98-08-073e, Santa Fe Institute.
    12. Iannaccone, Laurence R, 1992. "Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-Riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 271-291, April.
    13. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Gaviria, Alejandro & Medina, Carlos & Palau, María del Mar, 2010. "Las consecuencias económicas de un nombre atípico. El caso colombiano," El Trimestre Económico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, vol. 0(307), pages 535-556, julio-sep.
    2. Roland G. Fryer Jr. & Lisa Kahn & Steven D. Levitt & Jörg L. Spenkuch, 2012. "The Plight of Mixed-Race Adolescents," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(3), pages 621-634, August.
    3. Sourav Bhattacharya & Joyee Deb & Tapas Kundu, 2015. "Mobility and Conflict," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(1), pages 281-319, February.
    4. Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2010. "The Importance of Segregation, Discrimination, Peer Dynamics, and Identity in Explaining Trends in the Racial Achievement Gap," NBER Working Papers 16257, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General

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