The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 34, Issue 3–4, pp 259–271 | Cite as

Racial Differences in Civic Participation and Charitable Giving: The Confounding Effects of Educational Attainment and Unmeasured Ability

  • Eleanor BrownEmail author
  • Rosanna Smart


In this paper we use human capital theory to follow the links from educational attainment to civic engagement, and to other pro-social behaviors such as charitable giving and volunteering, and in so doing we offer a cautionary explanation for observed racial differences in civic participation, giving, and volunteering. Our argument is that when, in a racialized society such as the U.S., the costs and benefits of education differ by race, and when innate ability is an unmeasured source of heterogeneity across individuals, controlling for educational attainment and not for ability will create spurious race effects in empirical studies of behaviors that depend on both education and ability. Because (1) blacks at any level of educational attainment are predicted to be of higher average ability than equally educated whites and (2) higher ability is associated with higher levels of civic participation, a regression of civic participation on educational attainment and race will produce a positive coefficient on the dummy variable that takes on a value of one if the subject is African American. Using data from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, we find strong support for the interpretation of race effects as spurious artifacts of having included data on educational attainment without measures of innate ability.


Race Education Human capital Civic participation Charitable giving Volunteering Social capital 



We would like to thank Pomona College for support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsPomona CollegeClaremontUSA
  2. 2.Pomona CollegeClaremontUSA

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