DP3819 Do Oppositional Identities Reduce Employment for Ethnic Minorities?

Author(s): Harminder Battu, MacDonald Mwale, Yves Zenou
Publication Date: March 2003
Keyword(s): ethnic minorities, social networks, white's norm
JEL(s): J15
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=3819

We develop a model in which non-white individuals are defined with respect to their social environment (family, friends, neighbors) and their attachments to their culture of origin (religion, language), and in which jobs are mainly found through social networks. We find that, depending on how strongly they are linked to their culture of origin, non-whites choose to adopt ‘oppositional’ identities, since some individuals may identify with the dominant culture (status seekers) and others may reject that culture (conformists), even if it implies adverse labour market outcomes. We then test this model using a unique data-set that contains extensive information on various issues surrounding ethnic identity and preferences in Britain. We examine the two main issues of the theoretical model. First, what factors might lead some to adopt or possess such an oppositional identity? Second, what are the consequences for employment and is there an employment penalty for those who possess an oppositional identity? We find that indeed the social environment of individuals has a strong influence on their identity choice. We also find that those non-whites who have preferences that accord with being a conformist do experience an employment penalty.