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This paper considers the evolution of male earnings of the main ethnic groups in Malaysia. The relative earnings of the ethnic groups are especially at issue because of the ambitious anti-poverty and affirmative action programs that make up the New Economic Policy, inaugurated after bloody race riots in 1969. Data from the second Malaysian Family Life Survey (MFLS2), an important data source for recent studies of Malaysia, show that male Malay earnings steadily fell behind male Chinese earnings over the past thirty years. However, this is not consistent with the changes in large cross-sectional household surveys over the same time period. An explanation that could reconcile the two kinds of data is strong cohort effects, since the MFLS2 life history data has a different age and cohort structure than the cross-sectional data. The cohort hypothesis is rejected, which indicates there is probably recall bias in the reported work histories that varies with the ethnicity of the survey respondent.


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