Changing Ingroup Boundaries: The Effect of Immigration on Race Relations in the U.S.

94 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2020 Last revised: 23 Aug 2021

See all articles by Vasiliki Fouka

Vasiliki Fouka

Stanford University

Marco Tabellini

Harvard Business School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 1, 2021


How do social group boundaries evolve? Does the appearance of a new outgroup change the ingroup's perceptions of other outgroups? We introduce a conceptual framework of context-dependent categorization, in which exposure to one minority leads to recategorization of other minorities as in- or outgroups depending on perceived distances across groups. We test this framework by studying how Mexican immigration to the U.S. affected White Americans' attitudes and behaviors towards Black Americans. We combine survey and crime data with a difference-in-differences design and an instrumental variables strategy. Consistent with the theory, Mexican immigration improves Whites' racial attitudes, increases support for pro-Black government policies and lowers anti-Black hate crimes, while simultaneously increasing prejudice against Hispanics. Results generalize beyond Hispanics and Blacks and a survey experiment provides direct evidence for recategorization. Our findings imply that changes in the size of one group can affect the entire web of inter-group relations in diverse societies.

Keywords: Immigration, race, in-group-out-group relations

Suggested Citation

Fouka, Vasiliki and Tabellini, Marco, Changing Ingroup Boundaries: The Effect of Immigration on Race Relations in the U.S. (June 1, 2021). Harvard Business School BGIE Unit Working Paper No. 20-100, Available at SSRN: or

Vasiliki Fouka

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Marco Tabellini (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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