“choice of identity may be the most important ‘economic’ decision people make.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-11-04 03:50Z by Steven

A growing body of evidence from anecdotes, historians, and recent studies suggests that this [racial and ethnic identities are fixed and exogenous] is not always true. In fact, there may be reason to believe that race is, to some extent, a choice made by an individual because of social-economic and political factors. For example, historians have long noted that Americans with African ancestry often chose to ‘pass’ for white to obtain better economic and political opportunities (e.g. O’Toole 2003 and Sharfstein 2011). Mill and Stein (2012) find that amongst mixed-race siblings, those that identify as white later in life earn significantly higher wages. Recent studies have also documented that individuals have responded to political-economic incentives and changed castes in India (Cassan 2013), manipulated their racial appearance for higher wages in Brazil (Cornwell et al. 2014), or have strategically chosen the official ethnicity of mixed children in China (Jia and Persson 2013). More generally, studies of identity, such as the theoretical work of Akerlof and Kranton (2000), argue that “choice of identity may be the most important ‘economic’ decision people make. Individuals may – more or less consciously – choose who they want to be … Previous economic analyses of, for example, poverty, labor supply, and schooling have not considered these possibilities”.

Emily Nix and Nancy Qian, “Is race a choice?VOX: CEPR’s Policy Portal, January 26, 2015. http://www.voxeu.org/article/race-choice.

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Is race a choice?

Posted in Articles, Economics, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-02 01:50Z by Steven

Is race a choice?

VOX: CEPR’s Policy Portal
Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists
Centre for Economic Policy Research

Emily Nix, PhD candidate in Economics
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Nancy Qian, Associate Professor of Economics
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Race is usually treated as a fixed, exogenous characteristic in academic studies and policy discussions, but a growing body of evidence calls this assumption into question. This column presents evidence from historical US census data that more than 19% of black males ‘passed’ as white, around 10% of whom later ‘reverse-passed’ to being black. Passing was associated with geographic relocation and with better political-economic and social opportunities for whites relative to blacks, providing prima facie evidence that passing was endogenous.

The relationship between a person’s race and/or ethnicity and her economic, political, and social behaviour has been a focal point for numerous policy discussions. This is because the composition of race and ethnicity are often found to be associated with outcomes such as conflict, earnings, educational attainment, and voting. This is true in many different contexts across the world, including rich countries such as the US, middle-income countries such as Brazil and India, and very poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the interpretation that race has a causal impact on the aforementioned outcomes critically depends on whether one believes that race and ethnicity are exogenous and fixed characteristics – i.e. outside the control of an individual and constant over her lifetime.

The literature typically assumes that racial and ethnic identities are fixed and exogenous. For examples, see the reviews of the political economy literature by Alesina and Ferrara (2004) and of studies of the US black-white wage gap by Lang and Lehmann (2012)…

Read the entire article here.

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