An Empirical Analysis of Acting White



Are there important and quantifiable racial differences in the relationship between academic achievement and social status?


Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we attempt to quantify the phenomenon known colloquially as “acting white,” by using detailed information on friendship networks (importantly, the number of same-race friends), parental characteristics, and academic achievement for more than 90,000 junior-high and high-school students from all across the United States. This improves upon previous ethnographic literature, which had treated behaviors associated with academic achievement as a proxy for academic achievement. It also improved upon prior empirical work, which used static and self-reported measures of “popularity” and “academic achievement.”


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Using the reported number of friends as a measure of social status, we find a negative relationship between high academic achievement and social status when blacks achieve a GPA of 3.48 or higher. For Hispanics, the relationship turns negative after a GPA of 2.5. In other words, once these students achieve a GPA at the levels noted, the size of their friendship networks shrinks.

See also: Miscellaneous