14 July 2005


On News and Notes yesterday, I heard about a study by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer. In that segment Fryer spoke about the results of his studies on the relationship between social popularity and "acting white," and on the relationship between uncommon black names (I think "Loquetia" was an example) and economic success.

I love studies on our basic assumptions. Even when they reaffirm common knowledge or "home-spun wisdom," they are valuable because of their validation. So often, common knowledge is just plain wrong, so validation of such information is more valuable than, say, validation of a theory on superstrings. Maybe not that valuable, but still pretty valuable.

Anyway, Fryer looked at high school friend networks and compared grades with popularity ("An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'"). He found that black students kept a consistent popularity with grade increases up to a point. After that, their popularity went down. He labeled this as two audience signaling tension and pointed out that it is not related to race. As students try to achieve academic success in order to achieve economic success, they distance themselves from their peer group. Instead of focusing on friendships, they focus on a different environment and necessarily spend less time with friends. The higher achieving students are not being isolated because of their grades but because of friendship jealousies.

In the analysis of the affect of odd names on economic success, he compared apples to apples by tracking people from equivalent social settings. He found that a person's name had no correlation with their economic success. Oddly, he never explained why more black women than men have odd names.

[ posted by sstrader on 14 July 2005 at 11:43:22 AM in Culture & Society ]