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An Economic Theory of Glass Ceiling


  • Paul A. Grout
  • In-Uck Park
  • Silvia Sonderegger



In the 'glass ceiling' debate there appear to be two strongly held and opposing interpretations of the evidence, one suggesting it is really the result of gender differences and the other that there is discrimination by gender. This paper provides an economic theory of the glass ceiling and one of the main insights of our analysis is that in some real sense these two interpretations are not in conflict with each other. The glass ceiling emerges as an equilibrium phenomenon when firms compete à la Bertrand even though employers know that offering women the same contract as men would be sufficient to erase all differences among promoted workers. The model also provides new insights into anti-discrimination policy measures. (Updated from working paper 07/183)

Suggested Citation

  • Paul A. Grout & In-Uck Park & Silvia Sonderegger, 2009. "An Economic Theory of Glass Ceiling," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 09/227, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:09/227

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Neumark & Roy J. Bank & Kyle D. Van Nort, 1996. "Sex Discrimination in Restaurant Hiring: An Audit Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 915-941.
    2. Uri Gneezy & Muriel Niederle & Aldo Rustichini, 2003. "Performance in Competitive Environments: Gender Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1049-1074.
    3. Gary S. Becker, 1962. "Investment in Human Capital: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 1-9.
    4. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1990. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Job Ladders," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 106-123, January.
    5. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2008. "Exploring the Impact of Financial Incentives on Stereotype Threat: Evidence from a Pilot Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 370-375, May.
    6. Kevin Lang & Michael Manove & William T. Dickens, 2005. "Racial Discrimination in Labor Markets with Posted Wage Offers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1327-1340, September.
    7. Becker, Gary S, 1985. "Human Capital, Effort, and the Sexual Division of Labor," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 33-58, January.
    8. Marianne Bertrand & Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2009. "Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Corporate and Financial Sectors," NBER Working Papers 14681, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. George Baker & Michael Gibbs & Bengt Holmstrom, 1994. "The Internal Economics of the Firm: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 881-919.
    10. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2007. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1067-1101.
    11. Coate, Stephen & Loury, Glenn C, 1993. "Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1220-1240, December.
    12. David M. Kreps & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1983. "Quantity Precommitment and Bertrand Competition Yield Cournot Outcomes," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 14(2), pages 326-337, Autumn.
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    Cited by:

    1. David W. Johnston & Wang-Sheng Lee, 2012. "Climbing the Job Ladder: New Evidence of Gender Inequity," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(1), pages 129-151, January.

    More about this item


    glass ceilings; promotions; career options;

    JEL classification:

    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design


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