Economic and Social Integration of Minorities: The Effect of WWII on Racial Segregation

Societies with larger economic and social fragmentation of groups tend to have less favorable societal outcomes (Alesina et al., 1999). This paper tests whether exposure of two groups to one another in the workplace can reduce social fragmentation. For this I exploit a natural experiment provided by World War II. Counties with higher WWII casualty rates among semi-skilled whites experience a stronger influx of blacks into semi-skilled jobs. This exogenously increases the inter-group workplace exposure of blacks and whites. Using survey data from 1961, I show that the casualty-induced increase in the economic integration of blacks has positive effects on interracial friendships, communication, attitudes towards integration, and reduces the probability of blacks being punished for political activity. Longitudinal evidence using church membership data from 1916 to 1971 shows a significant post-war increase in the membership rate for denominations that allowed for mixed-race service before the war in treated counties. The findings point toward a strong and positive causal effect of economic integration on social integration of minorities.