Accents, Race and Discrimination: Evidence from a Trust Game

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University of Cape Town


We investigate discrimination according to accent and race on trust behaviour. Proposers were randomly paired with responders of the same/different race, and asked to play the trust game after looking at a photograph and hearing a 10 second audio clip of the responders reading a standardised script in English. This allows us to check for within and across-group favouritism in both race and accentedness. We find that accentedness is a statistically significant predictor of trust and is strongly non-linear in the race of the paired subjects for males but not for females. In the case of males, offers decrease by 11.3% if the responder has a mother-tongue English accent and does not share the same race as the proposer, but increases by about 6.6% if there is racial similarity. This effect is especially pronounced for Black males who are paired with other Black males: offers are 19.5% higher if responders have a mother-tongue English accent. By contrast, females in general seem less sensitive to the signal package. These large gender differences are not because men behave any more strategically than women.

Yagman: Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town; Keswell: Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit & School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Neville Alexander, who devoted his lifetime to advocate mother-tongue based multilingualism in South Africa. We are especially grateful to Justine Burns for helpful guidance and advice. We also thank seminar participants of the Research Unit in Behavioural and Neuroeconomics (Ruben) and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (Saldru). Funding of this research is gratefully acknowledged from the National Research Foundation of South Africa.