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Ethnicity, identity and discrimination among children

Jasmina Arifovic, Jane Friesen, Andreas Ludwig, Steven Wright
Simon Fraser University, Canada

Social identity theory is garnering increasing attention in economics. A number of experimental studies that compare economic behavior across neutral conditions and conditions where identity is made more salient, either by inducing artificial identities or priming natural identities, have shown that social identity can have important effects. The salience of social identities in natural (non-experimental) environments is an important and understudied question. We engaged 524 children aged five through nine years in a series of activities that measure their attitudes, perceived similarity and behavior with respect to three ethnically phenotypic categories (White, East Asian, and South Asian). We find that children from the dominant, high-status White/European group have the most favourable evaluations of and identify most strongly with the White ethnic category. Lower-status East Asian children tend to associate themselves with the high-status White category as well as with East Asians. These social identities are expressed in children’s allocations in the dictator game – White/European children show clear pro-White bias, but East Asian children do not discriminate.

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