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The Fluidity of Race: “Passing” in the United States, 1880-1940

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  • Emily Nix
  • Nancy Qian

Abstract

This paper quantifies the extent to which individuals experience changes in reported racial identity in the historical U.S. context. Using the full population of historical Censuses for 1880-1940, we document that over 19% of black males “passed” for white at some point during their lifetime, around 10% of whom later “reverse-passed” to being black; passing was accompanied by geographic relocation to communities with a higher percentage of whites and occurred the most in Northern states. The evidence suggests that passing was positively associated with better political-economic and social opportunities for whites relative to blacks. As such, endogenous race is likely to be a quantitatively important phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

  • Emily Nix & Nancy Qian, 2015. "The Fluidity of Race: “Passing” in the United States, 1880-1940," NBER Working Papers 20828, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20828
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Maggie Jones, 2017. "Student Aid and the Distribution of Educational Attainment," Working Papers 1373, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
    2. Guilhem Cassan & Lore Vandewalle, 2017. "Identities and Public Policies: Unintended Effects of Political Reservations for Women in India," IHEID Working Papers 18-2017, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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