Category Archives: academia

Freakonomics: “The Plight of Mixed Race Children”

by Latoya Peterson

I love Sudhir Venkatesh but I am starting to fucking hate the Freakonomics blog. Especially when they decide to touch race.

Mixed race people, step right up to be essentialized into neat little patterns of behavior!

In a recent paper I [Steven D. Levitt] co-authored with Roland Fryer, Lisa Kahn, and Jorg Spenkuch, we look at data to try to answer that question. Here is what we find:

1) Mixed-race kids grow up in households that are similar along many dimensions to those in which black children grow up: similar incomes, the father is much less likely to be around than in white households, etc.

2) In terms of academic performance, mixed-race kids fall in between blacks and whites.

3) Mixed-race kids do have one advantage over white and black kids: the mixed-race kids are much more attractive on average.

The really interesting result, though, is the next one.

4) There are some bad adolescent behaviors that whites do more than blacks (like drinking and smoking), and there are other bad adolescent behaviors that blacks do more than whites (watching TV, fighting, getting sexually transmitted diseases). Mixed-race kids manage to be as bad as whites on the white behaviors and as bad as blacks on the black behaviors. Mixed-race kids act out in almost every way measured in the data set.

Holy bucket of stereotypes, Batman! Number three is really killing me though – how the fuck did they measure that? By panel survey? Researchers opinion on hotness? Comparison to a eurocentric beauty standard? (According to the study, the person doing the at home interviews was the sole judge of hotness.)

I was wondering what economic theories they used to get to this point, but surprise – there ain’t none!

We try to use economic theory to explain this set of facts. I can’t say we are entirely successful. If we had to pick an explanation that best fits the facts, it would be the old sociology model of mixed-race individuals as the “marginal man”: not part of either racial group and therefore torn by inner conflict.

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