Acting White Puzzle

Tyler recently mentioned a paper by Ronald Fryer and Paul Torelli that looked at the correlation between academic achievement and popularity among ethnic groups. Click here to read the original paper. Motivated by research claiming that academically successful black high school students are less popular with their peers, Fryer and Torelli crunch some numbers to figure out if it’s really true.

Here’s the main finding. For White students, the higher the grade the more popular the student. For Black students, the same holds true except for kids with GPA’s > 3.5, who experience decreases in popularity. For Hispanic kids, popularity starts to go down when they hit a GPA of 2.0 to 2.5. (This is from Figures 1A-4A listed after page 43).

Here’s the puzzle for Marginal Revolution readers: Why is the peak popularity so different for Black and Hispanic students? In other words, why is the "Acting white" penalty only relevant for high achieving black students while it kicks in at a meager 2.0 GPA for Hispanics?

Readers are invited to email me their thoughts on the topic (frojas at indiana dot edu). Fryer and Torelli allude to this Black/Hispanic difference, but they don’t really get into an explanation of it. Don’t quibble with the data – it’s from a high quality survey and popularity is objectively measured, rather than self-reported. I’ll post reader responses and my own thoughts in a few days.


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