Skip to main content

Empathy or Antipathy? The Consequences of Racially and Socially Diverse Peers on Attitudes and Behaviors (WP-03-05)

Greg J. Duncan, Johanne Boisjoly, Dan M. Levy, Michael Kremer, and Jacque Eccles

Mixing across ethnic and class lines could potentially either spur understanding or inflame tensions between groups. The authors find that white students at a large state university who are randomly assigned African-American roommates are more likely to endorse affirmative action policies one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years after entering college. Whites who are randomly assigned minority roommates are more likely to say they have more personal contact with and interact more comfortably with members of minority groups, and they are just as likely to remain close friends with their roommates beyond their initial year. Students become less supportive of higher taxes for the wealthy when they are assigned roommates from high-income backgrounds, and they appear to be more likely to volunteer when assigned roommates from low-income families. Taken together, these results suggest students become more empathetic with the social groups to which their roommates belong.

Greg J. Duncan, Human Development and Social Policy and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Johanne Boisjoly, Sociology, University of Quebec at Rimouski

Dan M. Levy, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Michael Kremer, Economics, Harvard University; The Brookings Institution; and NBER

Jacque Eccles, Psychology, University of Michigan

Download PDF