Discrimination and Assimilation
39 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2010 Last revised: 24 Mar 2015
Date Written: June 5, 2013
I present a theory of assimilation in a heterogeneous society composed of two groups with distinct social norms and unequal statuses. Members of the group with a relatively disadvantaged status face an incentive to assimilate, embracing the norms of the more advantaged group. The cost of assimilation is endogenous and strategically chosen by the advantaged group to screen those seeking to assimilate. In equilibrium, only highly skilled agents, who generate positive externalities, choose to assimilate. The theory provides a novel explanation of the so called “acting white” phenomenon, in which students from disadvantaged ethnic groups punish their co-ethnics who succeed academically. I show that punishing success and thus raising the cost of acquiring skills needed to assimilate is an optimal strategy by low ability students to keep their more able co-ethnics in the disadvantaged group.
Keywords: Assimilation, discrimination, acting white, peer effects, social norms
JEL Classification: J15, D71, Z13, D62, I24
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation