Economics serving society

Mixing kids by race in school leads to more interracial relationships

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Luca Merlino, Max Steinhardt and Liam Wren Lewis

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Interracial marriage rates are important indicators of social integration and the health of race relations. It may therefore be concerning that, in many countries, interracial marriage rates are low – in the US, for example, only 8% of married blacks intermarry with whites. Racial preferences appear to play an important role in explaining this sorting. Yet little is known about what determines these racial preferences, nor to what extent they are influenced by individuals’ experiences. Social interaction has been shown to change attitudes in the short-term, but it is unknown whether it can influence preferences in a sufficiently sustained way so as to change behaviour.

In this article, Luca Merlino, Max Steinhardt, and Liam Wren-Lewis, find that greater racial diversity within school increases interracial relationships. In particular, the study compare white students within the same school, contrasting those who happen to be part of cohorts with fewer black students to those in cohorts with more black students. White students in cohorts with more black students end up having more social interactions with black students, are more likely to make black friends and as adults are less likely to think that race is an important factor within a relationship. Moreover, these white students who were exposed to a greater number of black students are more likely to have a romantic relationship with a black person when they are an adult. This is not simply the result of students having more potential black partners in school, since the peer groups which impact adult relationships are students of the same sex in the same grade. Moreover, cohort composition impacts relationships formed many years after school, implying the increase in mixed-race relationships is not simply driven by students meeting more black partners via school friends. Overall, therefore, the results suggest that racial diversity in schools can help lead to positive changes in attitudes and behaviour towards those of other races.


Original title of the article: More than Just Friends? School Peers and Adult Interracial Relationships

Published in: Journal of Labor Economics, Forthcoming

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