Incentives to Identify: Ethnic and Racial Identification in the Age of Affirmative Action

Francisca M. Antman, University of Colorado at Boulder
Brian Duncan, University of Colorado at Denver

Self-reported ethnic identity is almost universally taken as an exogenously given trait that is not subject to change. But in cases where one’s ethnic identity is subjective, does individual ethnic identification respond to economic incentives? This paper provides a first examination of this question by linking data on ethnic self-identification among descendants of U.S. immigrants with changes in affirmative action policies in higher education. The answer has important implications for observed assimilation patterns of ethnic groups as well as the perceived level of diversity in colleges and universities. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate whether ethnic self-identification responds to local economic and social conditions in the United States. As such, it has broad implications for understanding the impact of affirmative action policies and the emerging literature on the construction of race and ethnicity.

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Presented in Session 99: Recent Issues in Educational and Labor Force Discrimination