To be or not to be? Material incentives and indigenous identification in Latin America

René D. Flores, David Sulmont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Latin American governments have recently implemented race conscious policies to provide resources to stigmatized groups like indigenous people. Nevertheless, critics have questioned the legitimacy of these policies and argued that they could artificially induce indigenous identification. Such claim, however, has never been tested. We use a causal inference approach based on nationally-representative survey experiments applied door-to-door in Mexico and Peru to examine whether material incentives can indeed encourage indigenous identification. Our results are counterintuitive. Reminding respondents of potential material benefits of indigenous identification does not increase such identification. It reduces it. We theorize this negative effect may be driven by the fact that receiving social benefits is stigmatized. Our findings call into question critics’ concerns that ethnic-based redistributive policies necessarily incentivize ethnic identification. These results not only provide compelling evidence of the social construction of ethnic identities, but they also seemingly challenge purely instrumentalist models of ethnic identification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2658-2678
Number of pages21
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2021


  • Race and ethnicity in Latin America
  • ethnic identification
  • indigenous people
  • survey experiments


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