Race and Social Problems

, Volume 2, Issue 3–4, pp 164–178 | Cite as

Race to College: The “Reverse Gap”

  • William ManginoEmail author


This article uses the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to establish that once socioeconomic status is considered, black Americans go to college at higher rates than whites. The outcome replicates numerous other studies that use different datasets and varying methods. Combining statistics and literature, I propose that blacks’ superior educational investment is an “empirical generalization.” This leads to discussions of the black-white “gap” in education and the “attitude-achievement paradox.” The latter claims that black people have high educational aspirations but fail to act on those attitudes. But when considering the choice to invest in education, the “attitude-achievement paradox” evaporates. Black Americans have high educational aspirations and, when there are enough resources, act on those aspirations by going to college at higher rates than whites. The paper concludes with a theoretical explanation of why black people, more than whites, efficiently translate resources into educational investment. I use literature to show that in the United States, the bearers of light skin are afforded numerous informal opportunities that allow them to get higher returns out of a given level of human capital. Non-whites, on the other hand, have fewer informal opportunities, and they therefore deploy “supra-normal efforts” of skill acquisition as a strategy to overcome their informal disadvantage.


Race Education College Test score gap Attitude-achievement paradox Oppositional culture Human capital Social capital 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for their assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. The author thanks Tad Krauze, Marc Silver, Grace Johnson, and the RASP reviewers for useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Any mistakes that remain are the author’s.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA

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