Workplace Diversity and Black-White Social Relations

Societies with larger economic and social fragmentation of groups tend to have less favorable societal outcomes (Alesina et al., 1999). I exploit a natural experiment induced by World War II to test whether workplace exposure of blacks and whites improves or worsens black-white social relations in the U.S. South. Combining a novel military casualty data set with U.S. Census data, difference-in-differences (DiD) results show that counties with higher WWII casualty rates among semi-skilled whites experienced a stronger influx of blacks into semi-skilled jobs during and after the war. On average, a fallen semi-skilled white soldier was replaced by 1.8 black workers. This exogenously increased the inter-group workplace exposure of blacks and whites in semi-skilled occupations. Instrumental variables (IV) results using survey data from 1961 provide evidence that individuals living in counties with a casualty-induced skill upgrade of blacks had an increased probability of having an interracial friendship, of living in mixed-race areas, and of having more positive attitudes towards integration in general, at school, and at church. Longitudinal evidence using church membership data from 1916 to 1971 in an IV-DiD setting shows a significant post-war increase in the membership rate for denominations that allowed for mixed-race service before the war in treated counties.

Coverage: EHS – The Long Run