NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 26, 2008

Over the past 40 years, the fraction of mixed race black-white births has increased nearly nine-fold.  There is little empirical evidence on how these children fare relative to their single-race counterparts; however, a new National Bureau of Economic Research study examines the plight of mixed race individuals during their adolescence and early adulthood.

Researchers analyzed a national survey that gathered data on children in grade 7-12 and asked them about risky behavior like drinking, fighting, stealing and doing drugs.  They found that children of black-white interracial unions are far more likely to engage in risky behavior than their peers of a single race:

  • While mixed-race children scored between whites and blacks on levels of school achievement, there are high rates of risky/anti-social behavior on the part of mixed race adolescents on virtually every dimension measured.
  • Mixed-race kids scored worse than both blacks and whites in more than 70 percent of the measured behaviors.
  • They showed worse results whether the bad behavior was more common among whites (like drinking and smoking) or among blacks (like violence and riskier sexual practices).

Researchers suspect that such kids, burdened by dual loyalties to often-conflicting groups, go to extremes to demonstrate solidarity with their peers through "group-sanctioned misbehavior."

Further, they argue that these behavioral patterns are most consistent with the "marginal man" hypothesis, which basically says that mixed race adolescents - not having a natural peer group - need to engage in more risky behaviors to be accepted.  But when mixed race adolescents are in environments where their peers are predominately black, for instance, they are no more likely to adopt black behaviors than when they have peers who are predominately white, say researchers.

Source: Ronald G. Fryer, et al., "The Plight of Mixed Race Adolescents," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper, No. 14192, July 2008.

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