Posted on August 1, 2008

The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents

Roland G. Fryer, Jr, Lisa Kahn, Steven D. Levitt, Jörg L. Spenkuch, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2008

NBER Working Paper No. 14192

Issued in July 2008


Over the past 40 years the fraction of mixed race black-white births has increased nearly nine-fold. There is little empirical evidence on how these children fare relative to their single-race counterparts. This paper describes basic facts about the plight of mixed race individuals during their adolescence and early adulthood. As one might expect, on a host of background and achievement characteristics, mixed race adolescents fall in between whites and blacks. When it comes to engaging in risky/anti-social adolescent behavior, however, mixed race adolescents are stark outliers compared to both blacks and whites. We argue that these behavioral patterns are most consistent with the “marginal man” hypothesis, which we formalize as a two-sector Roy model. Mixed race adolescents—not having a natural peer group—need to engage in more risky behaviors to be accepted. All other models we considered can explain neither why mixed race adolescents are outliers on risky behaviors nor why these behaviors are not strongly influenced by the racial composition at their school.

[Editor’s Note: “The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents,” by Roland G. Fryer, et al., can be read on-line or downloaded here.]