Authors: Alberto Alesina, Matteo Ferroni, and Stefanie Stantcheva
Publication: NBER Working Paper 29245, 2021
Using new large-scale survey and experimental data, we investigate how respondents perceive racial inequities between Black and white Americans, what they believe causes them, and what interventions, if any, they think should be implemented to reduce them. We intentionally oversample Black respondents, cover many cities in the US, and survey both adults and very young people aged 13 to 17. In the experimental parts, we consider the causal impact of information on racial inequities (such as the evolution of the Black-white earnings gap or the differences in mobility for Black and white children) and explanations for these inequities (i.e., the deep-seated roots and long-lasting consequences of systemic racism) on respondents’ views. Although there is heterogeneity in how respondents perceive the magnitude of current racial gaps in economic conditions and opportunities, the biggest discrepancies are in how they explain them. There is a stark partisan gap among white respondents, particularly in the perceived causes of racial inequities and what should be done about them. White Democrats and Black respondents are much more likely to attribute racial inequities to adverse past and present circumstances and want to act on them with race-targeted and general redistribution policies. At the same time, white Republicans are more likely to attribute racial gaps to individual actions. These views are already deeply entrenched in teenagers based on their race and their parents’ political affiliation. A policy decomposition shows that the perceived causes of racial inequities correlate most strongly with support for race-targeted or general redistribution policies, a finding confirmed by the experimental results.