November 2004

IZA DP No. 1389: Information and Racial Exclusion

published in: Journal of Population Economics, 2007, 20 (3), 621 - 642

This paper presents several economic models that explore the relationships between imperfect information, racial income disparities, and segregation. The use of race as a signal arises here, as in models of statistical discrimination, from imperfect information about the return to transactions with particular agents. In a search framework, signaling supports not simply a discriminatory equilibrium, but a pattern of racially segregated transactions, which in turn perpetuates the informational asymmetries. Minority groups necessarily suffer disproportionately from segregation, since the degree to which transactions opportunities are curtailed depends upon group size, as well as the informational “distance” between racial groups. However, in some variants of the model, minority agents will self-segregate since they face an adverse selection of majority agents who are willing to trade with them. We also show that, if agents are able to learn from transactions, racial signaling can emerge with only minimal assumptions about the ex ante importance of race.