There has been little empirical study of how ethnicity and class interact in shaping economic outcomes. We conduct an audit experiment in Lagos – one of the first audit experiments in Africa – seeking to address this gap. We find no evidence that, all else equal, sharing an ethnicity on its own shapes treatment. However, sharing an ethnicity does benefit higher-class coethnics, giving them immunity from penalties that otherwise apply to higher-class buyers. The pattern of discrimination is tentatively suggestive of taste-based motivations.
Nathaniel Leff, Jeffry Frieden, and Shelby Grossman. “Trust and Envy: The Political Economy of Business Groups in Developing Countries.” pdf
Diversified business groups play a major role in the economies of many developing countries. Business group members, often from the same communal, ethnic, or tribal group, have or develop inter-personal relations that make it easier to obtain information and monitor compliance related to transactions that require a strong measure of trust. This in-group cohesion facilitates profitable and productive economic activity. However, it can create resentment among other members of society who are barred from membership in a group that is, of necessity, exclusive. This envy can fuel a self-reinforcing cycle of societal hostility and group protectiveness that can deprive society of the economic benefits the groups can provide. There are several possible reactions such as ‘affirmative action’ programs that can slow or stop the cycle of envy and group vulnerability.