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Statistical Discrimination in Labor Markets: An Experimental Analysis

  • Dickinson, David L.

    ()

    (Appalachian State University)

  • Oaxaca, Ronald L.

    ()

    (University of Arizona)

Statistical discrimination occurs when distinctions between demographic groups are made on the basis of real or imagined statistical distinctions between the groups. While such discrimination is legal in some cases (e.g., insurance markets), it is illegal and/or controversial in others (e.g., racial profiling and gender-based labor market discrimination). “First-moment” statistical discrimination occurs when, for example, female workers are offered lower wages because females are perceived to be less productive, on average, than male workers. “Second-moment” discrimination would occur when risk-averse employers offer female workers lower wages based not on lower average productivity but on a higher variance in their productivity. This paper reports results from controlled laboratory experiments designed to study second-moment statistical discrimination in a labor market setting. Since decision-makers may not view risk in the same way as economists or statisticians (i.e., risk=variance of distribution), we also examine two possible alternative measures of risk: the support of the distribution, and the probability of earning less than the expected (maximum) profits for the employer. Our results indicate that individuals do respond to these alternative measures of risk, and employers made statistically discriminatory wage offers consistent with loss-aversion.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2305.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Southern Economic Journal, 2009, 76 (1), 16-31
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2305
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  1. Cornell, Bradford & Welch, Ivo, 1996. "Culture, Information, and Screening Discrimination," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(3), pages 542-71, June.
  2. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," NBER Working Papers 11474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Joseph G. Altonji & Charles R. Pierret, 1997. "Employer learning and statistical discrimination," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues WP-97-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  4. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-55, December.
  5. Lang, Kevin, 1986. "A Language Theory of Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 363-82, May.
  6. Fershtman, C. & Gneezy, U., 2000. "Discrimination in a Segmented Society: an Experimental Approach," Papers 2000-9, Tel Aviv.
  7. John A. List, 2004. "The Nature and Extent of Discrimination in the Marketplace: Evidence from the Field," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 49-89, February.
  8. Curley, Shawn P. & Yates, J. Frank, 1985. "The center and range of the probability interval as factors affecting ambiguity preferences," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 273-287, October.
  9. Helen F. Ladd, 1998. "Evidence on Discrimination in Mortgage Lending," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 41-62, Spring.
  10. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  11. 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.
  12. Glenn C. Loury, 1998. "Discrimination in the Post-Civil Rights Era: Beyond Market Interactions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 117-126, Spring.
  13. Dennis J. Aigner & Glen G. Cain, 1977. "Statistical theories of discrimination in labor markets," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 30(2), pages 175-187, January.
  14. Vernon L. Smith, 1965. "Experimental Auction Markets and the Walrasian Hypothesis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 73, pages 387.
  15. Davis, Douglas D., 1987. "Maximal quality selection and discrimination in employment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 97-112, March.
  16. 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 622-54, June.
  17. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1998. "What Has Economics to Say about Racial Discrimination?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 91-100, Spring.
  18. Richard Startz & Lundberg, . "Private Discrimination and Social Intervention in Competitive Labor Markets," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 19-81, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  19. 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 304-21, June.
  20. David Dickinson & Ronald Oaxaca, 2005. "The Equivalence of Panel Data Estimators under Orthogonal Experimental Design," Working Papers 05-07, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
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