February 2003

IZA DP No. 721: Do Oppositional Identities Reduce Employment for Ethnic Minorities?

published as 'Oppositional identities and the labor market' in: Journal of Population Economics, 2007, 20 (3), 643-667

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 found that, depending on how strong 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 labor 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 find considerable heterogeneity in the ethnic population of Britain in terms of ethnic preferences. One group, namely the African-Asians, stand out in having preferences that accord with the notion of them being status seekers. Such preferences are closely tied to a range of assimilation variables and those non-whites who have preferences that accord with being a conformist do experience an employment penalty.