The Impact of Intergroup Contact on Racial Attitudes and Revealed Preferences

Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, James E. West

NBER Working Paper No. 20940
Issued in February 2015
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Understanding whether racial attitudes are malleable is critical for addressing the underlying causes of racial discrimination. We examine whether white males' stated attitudes and behavior toward African Americans change based on the number and type of black peers to whom they are exposed. To overcome selection bias, we exploit data from the U.S. Air Force Academy in which students are randomly assigned to peer groups. Results show significant evidence in favor of the contact hypothesis. White males are significantly affected by both the number (quantity) and aptitude (quality) of the black peers with whom they are exposed. Specifically, white men randomly assigned to higher-aptitude black peers report being more accepting of blacks in general and are more likely to match with a black roommate the following year after reassignment to a new peer group with a different set of black peers. We also find that, ceteris paribus, exposure to more black peers significantly increases the probability of a bi-racial roommate match.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20940

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