An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'

55 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2005

See all articles by Roland G. Fryer

Roland G. Fryer

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; University of Chicago

Paul Torelli

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 2005

Abstract

There is a debate among social scientists regarding the existence of a peer externality commonly referred to as 'acting white.' Using a newly available data set (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health), which allows one to construct an objective measure of a student's popularity, we demonstrate that there are large racial differences in the relationship between popularity and academic achievement; our (albeit narrow) definition of 'acting white.' The effect is intensified among high achievers and in schools with more interracial contact, but non-existent among students in predominantly black schools or private schools. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a two-audience signaling model in which investments in education are thought to be indicative of an individual's opportunity costs of peer group loyalty. Other models we consider, such as self-sabotage among black youth or the presence of an oppositional culture, all contradict the data in important ways.

Suggested Citation

Fryer, Roland G. and Torelli, Paul, An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White' (May 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11334. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=723303

Roland G. Fryer (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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University of Chicago ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
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Paul Torelli

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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