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Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being Hardcover – February 10, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


One of Bloomberg News's (bloomberg.com/news) Top Thirty Business Books of the Year for 2010

Honorable Mention for the 2010 PROSE Award in Economics, Association of American Publishers

"Akerlof . . . and Kranton . . . explore the links between our identities and the everyday decisions we make about earning and spending money. Their goal is to add a more personal touch to economics."--New York Times

"There is no question monetary incentives are important--indeed critical--but it is important also to consider other meaningful ways to motivate and engage work forces. In a recent book by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton, Identity Economics, the authors document how people in exceptional organizations work well because they identify with the values and the culture, not simply the financial rewards."--Al Gore and David Blood, Wall Street Journal

"[A]n important new book. . . . Professor Akerlof and Rachel Kranton have invented Identity Economics."--Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

"Identity Economics is a popular account of work that will already be familiar to economists who have read the authors' journal articles. It is admirably short, written in a clear, nontechnical style but without the condescending breeziness of many books aimed at the airport market. Nonspecialist readers will find a lot of insightful and well-informed analysis of how issues of identity have an impact on real economic problems."--Robert Sugden, Science

"The authors make a compelling case that the group with which individuals identify shapes their decisions about schooling, work, savings, investment, and retirement. This paradigm offers better ways of understanding the consequences of public policies and business practices. . . . Identity Economics provides a new language and a useful apparatus to take measure of 'real people in real situations.'"--Barron's

"Business managers, economists, policy makers, and school administrators will all gain fresh insights into similar enigmas that confront them if they bear the book's message in mind: identity matters."--ForeWord

"[A] lucid look at how social considerations carry economic consequences. . . . The authors use the word 'identity' as shorthand for the way people divide themselves into social groups, each of which--like high-school Jocks and Burnouts--has a sense of how to behave."--James Pressley, Bloomberg News

"The essence of the book is to place social contexts at the heart of an individual's decision-making. Tastes vary with social context, and concepts such as identity and norms influence the outcome."--Mint

"This is a completely new idea, which, in essence, says that one effect of being in an increasingly liberal and affluent society is that aspects of identity that previously didn't seem to matter much to economists are consciously influencing our behaviour."--Trevor Phillips, Prospect

"[Akerlof and Kranton] present the material in a very readable and entertaining way. Their findings are that economic behavior is governed by one's social category, by the norms of that social assignment, and by how one views one's identity in that social context."--Choice

"[B]y the end of the book, my overwhelming feeling was that the authors had made a pretty robust case for why our profession should pay greater attention to the social structures that underpin our economic decisions. For this, they should be highly commended."--Samuel Tombs, Business Economist

"Identity Economics provides the broader, better vision that we need."--New Economy

"The book provides a solid basis for a plethora of future research, especially in the field of behavioural economics. . . . Identity economics is a step forward, progressing economic theory and understanding a little further along the path from Homo economicus to Homo sapiens."--David A. Savage, The Economic Record

"Akerlof is one of the most imaginative thinkers in neoclassical economics, and his earlier work on information economics essentially sparked off a revolution which dramatically changed the nature of the subject. Any work by him is worth pursuing."--Priyodorshi Banerjee, Economic & Political Weekly

"Identity Economics marks a very significant contribution to the ever-growing economic literature incorporating nonmonetary motives to explain behavior and as such it is highly recommended reading for social scientists."--Andreas P. Kyriacou, Public Choice

"This book is a must read for any social scientist whose interests lie in the intersection of economic analysis and real-world context and situations. While decidedly a trade book, the substantial list of references and strong foundations in the economics literature provide further reading for those who may be more mathematically inclined. Overall, the book was an interesting and informative read providing a framework for analysis not usually offered elsewhere."--Gabriel R. Serna, Journal of Economic Issues

"By demonstrating the ways identity and social norms guide economic behavior, Akerlof and Kranton present a powerful challenge to conventional economics--and our everyday assumptions about human behavior."--World Book Industry

From the Inside Flap

"In the regular economic discourse of markets and taxes, we often forget about the forces that truly make a large difference in our lives. In Identity Economics we sit on an economic porch with Rachel Kranton and George Akerlof, observing what we care about most--our identity."--Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

"In Identity Economics, George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton team up to bring people and their passions into economic analysis. Moving away from conventional accounts, they propose a bold paradigm to explain why and how identity and social norms shape economic decision making. With verve and insight, the book transforms standard economic understandings of organizations, schools, gender segregation, and racial discrimination. This new enlightened economics opens up a bright future for serious collaboration between economists and sociologists."--Viviana A. Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

"This intriguing book shows how much can be learned when you add the tools of economics to the other intellectual resources now available for thinking about the power of identity. George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton report the results of technical modeling without immersing the reader in the technicalities. The result is an accessible work of commendable clarity."--Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Ethics of Identity

"Identity Economics blends elements of psychology with traditional economic analysis. The writing is clear, interesting, and light on jargon. The interplay between theoretical predictions and concrete examples is particularly successful. It brings fascinating developments at the frontier of economics within reach of a wide audience."--H. Peyton Young, University of Oxford

"Identity Economics is full of creative and interesting thoughts that will delight and intrigue those who read it. The writing is lucid and accessible with a minimum of standard economics jargon, making it possible for the book to have a wide readership across the social sciences."--Timothy Besley, London School of Economics and Political Science

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691146489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691146485
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeff Lippincott on February 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. I decided to read it after skimming its Table of Contents and discovering that it would probably be a good companion book to another book I recently read and reviewed: Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap. And I suspect a good companion book to the instant book would probably be Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. As a collective unit, all three books seem to indicate that people can be successful but the roadmap to get there is not clear-cut. Some people can take the bull by the horns and overcome obstacles. While others will just go with the flow or do what is expected of them and simply exist. By reading these three books one can probably get a better handle on how to plan and strategize their own roadmap to success.

I found "Identity Economics" to be well outlined and written. And I agree with everything it says. People are born into socio-economic classes. They are either male or female. They have parents and family with existing identities. And they live in communities with certain norms and rituals that further provide them with identities. All in all, people are trapped in the identities they SEE THEMSELVES having. And they are trapped in the identities OTHERS SEE them having. The good news is that these "cages" can be opened if a person puts his or her mind to it. But they have to know the cages exist in the first place. By reading this book you will understand that cages do exist.

The book covers race, sex, and economic status.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Economics has been going through an exciting transition. It was once known as the emperor of the social sciences back when the hyper-rational school of neoclassical economics was ascendant. Then psychologists and other more empirically-minded social scientists began to look at how real people make their choices and they found that, surprise, surprise, the emperor of the social sciences had no clothes.

But economists seem to have taken this criticism seriously and economists are developing new, more general tools based on game theory. They are also shameless ripping off the ideas of other disciplines. Economists are better with mathematical tools, game theory, and the (still sound) core of rational choice theory. These tools are letting them colonize other social sciences once again, and this time they will not be so easy to fight off.

That is what happens in this book. Neoclassical economics does not have much to say about how people form their preferences, nor did it have a vocabulary to discuss how people are socialized. That is changing with identity economics. The gist of identity economics is explained in a story that Akerlof and Kranton tell about children on a carousel. The toddler ride on their parents laps. The four and five year old children ride alone and wave to their parents on the sidelines. These children had a sense of identity which told them they were older and did not need to ride with their parents. They took great pleasure in riding alone, unlike the babies. The next older batch of kids were more daring. They'd switch positions, ride one-handed and no-handed, and find other ways to make the ride more exciting.

The thirteen year olds were the most interesting.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book shows how economists can incorporate concepts that other social scientists have always recognised.

In this book, Akerlof and Kranton propose an amendment to the economic utility function to take into account individual's group identity. The amendment is fairly simple:
(i) Individuals identify with various categories (e.g. gender, race, religion);
(ii) Those categories are defined by various norms, including an ideal version of how a member of that category will act;
(iii) When an individual conforms to the norms of their selected categories, they gain utility; when they do not, they lose utility.

It's a simple amendment that they go on to apply to various different contexts - work, schools, the military - and show how this amendment allows economists to understand behaviour that was previously incomprehensible. By providing a framework that accurately accounts for how group identities affect individuals, this allows for more appropriate interventions to alter human behaviour.

The reality is that while these kinds of concepts have been incomprehensible within the narrow confines of traditional economics, it's not as if what Akerlof and Kranton are writing about is new. This is exactly the kind of concepts that sociologists and anthropologists have always used and understood - often in a much more complex and insightful way.

What is good about Akerlof and Kranton is that they have recognised that there is work done by other social scientists that economists have been ignoring and shouldn't, and they have identified ways for economists to frame these concepts in their own work. However, by simply identifying identity as important, they haven't added that much.
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