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Wages, Employment, and Statistical Discrimination: Evidence from the Laboratory


  • David L. Dickinson
  • Ronald L. Oaxaca


When membership in a particular group conveys valuable information about an individual’s skills, productivity, or other human capital characteristics, a non-prejudiced agent may still find it rational to statistically discriminate. We frame statistical discrimination in a labor market setting for a series of laboratory experiments. A main objective of our experiments is to examine how varying productivity risk along several dimensions impacts outcomes across worker groups. Our design expands upon existing research by generating laboratory data both on wage contracts and unemployment rates of directly competing worker groups. We find some evidence for statistical wage discrimination against workers with identical expected productivity but higher productivity variance. However, those same subjects are less likely to be unemployed, suggesting that our employers view hiring choice and wage contracts as substitutable. These laboratory results have interesting implications for labor markets where employers select from workers belonging to distinct statistical groups, and suggest that statistical discrimination based on wages alone may overestimate the true effect of such discrimination. Key Words:

Suggested Citation

  • David L. Dickinson & Ronald L. Oaxaca, 2012. "Wages, Employment, and Statistical Discrimination: Evidence from the Laboratory," Working Papers 12-03, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:apl:wpaper:12-03

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chaim Fershtman & Uri Gneezy, 2001. "Discrimination in a Segmented Society: An Experimental Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 351-377.
    2. David W. Harless & George E. Hoffer, 2002. "Do Women Pay More for New Vehicles? Evidence from Transaction Price Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 270-279, March.
    3. David L. Dickinson & Ronald L. Oaxaca, 2009. "Statistical Discrimination in Labor Markets: An Experimental Analysis," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 76(1), pages 16-31, July.
    4. Harry Markowitz, 1952. "Portfolio Selection," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 7(1), pages 77-91, March.
    5. Kevin Lang, 1986. "A Language Theory of Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 101(2), pages 363-382.
    6. John A. List, 2004. "The Nature and Extent of Discrimination in the Marketplace: Evidence from the Field," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 49-89.
    7. Oaxaca, Ronald L. & Geisler, Iris, 2003. "Fixed effects models with time invariant variables: a theoretical note," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(3), pages 373-377, September.
    8. Ayres, Ian & Siegelman, Peter, 1995. "Race and Gender Discrimination in Bargaining for a New Car," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 304-321, June.
    9. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou, 1996. "Dealer Price Discrimination in New Car Purchases: Evidence from the Consumer Expenditure Survey," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(3), pages 622-654, June.
    10. Helen F. Ladd, 1998. "Evidence on Discrimination in Mortgage Lending," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 41-62, Spring.
    11. Cornell, Bradford & Welch, Ivo, 1996. "Culture, Information, and Screening Discrimination," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(3), pages 542-571, June.
    12. Davis, Douglas D., 1987. "Maximal quality selection and discrimination in employment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 97-112, March.
    13. Lundberg, Shelly J & Startz, Richard, 1983. "Private Discrimination and Social Intervention in Competitive Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 340-347, June.
    14. Dennis J. Aigner & Glen G. Cain, 1977. "Statistical Theories of Discrimination in Labor Markets," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 30(2), pages 175-187, January.
    15. Castillo, Marco & Petrie, Ragan, 2010. "Discrimination in the lab: Does information trump appearance?," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 50-59, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Baert, Stijn, 2015. "Hiring a Homosexual, Taking a Risk? A Lab Experiment on Employment Discrimination and Risk Aversion," IZA Discussion Papers 9536, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Dickinson, David L. & Masclet, David & Peterle, Emmanuel, 2017. "Discrimination as Favoritism: The Private Benefits and Social Costs of In-group Favoritism in an Experimental Labor Market," IZA Discussion Papers 10599, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Ronald L. Oaxaca & David L. Dickinson, 2016. "Symmetric experimental designs: conditions for equivalence of panel data estimators," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 2(1), pages 85-95, May.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing

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