Poverty and Social Pressure
By Arnold Kling
Most of us reading this blog, after all, went to college and/or got nice steady jobs because we had enormous social and familial pressure on us to do so. How many of us were strong enough to overcome our environment, drop out of high school, and sell drugs?
I jest, of course, but not totally. The fact that every inner-city kid isn’t a Horatio Alger story doesn’t mean that inner city kids couldn’t be, if their environment were more like the one I grew up in.
Roland G. Fryer, Jr. has written a great deal about social pressure not to succeed in the African-American community. He has a paper on what he calls Cultural Capital. Imagine someone from a Spanish province trying to choose between learning global skills and preserving his cultural identity.
Investments in computer programming are valued in the global labor market, whereas, Catalan is only valued in the small local community. Agents observe each otherï¿½s investment portfolio, and can calculate the conditional probability of any agent being in the community in the future. Investments in Catalan yield a relatively high probability of being in the community in the future, since it is not valued elsewhere, and investments in computer programming yield a relatively low probability.
The idea is that if the person values his acceptance by the community, he may forego investment in human capital. I think that in constructing his paper Fryer goes overboard trying to get acceptance from the mathematical community in the economics profession, but I guess that is the community that holds the keys to tenure.
Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer to Fryer.
For Discussion. Can otherwise irrational behavior be explained well by social pressure, or is that a desperate hypothesis?