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Labor Market Discrimination and Racial Differences in Premarket Factors

  • Pedro Carneiro
  • James J. Heckman
  • Dimitriy V. Masterov

This paper examines minority-white wage gaps. Neal and Johnson (1996) show that controlling for ability measured in the teenage years eliminates young adult wage gaps for all groups except for black males, for whom they eliminate 70% of the gap. Their study has been faulted because minority children and their parents may have pessimistic expectations about receiving fair rewards for their skills and so they may invest less in skill formation. If this is the case, discrimination may still affect wages, albeit indirectly, though it would appear that any racial differences in wages are due to differences in acquired traits. We find that gaps in ability across racial and ethnic groups open up at very early ages, long before child expectations are likely to become established. These gaps widen with age and schooling for Blacks, but not for Hispanics which indicates that poor schools and neighborhoods cannot be the principal factors affecting the slow black test score growth rate. Test scores depend on schooling attained at the time of the test. Adjusting for racial and ethnic differences in schooling attainment at the age the test is taken reduces the power of measured ability to shrink wage gaps for blacks, but not for other minorities. The evidence from expectations data are mixed. Although all groups are quite optimistic about future schooling outcomes, minority parents and children have more pessimistic expectations about child schooling relative to white children and their parents when their children are young. At later ages, expectations are more uniform across racial and ethnic groups. However, we also present some evidence that expectations data are unreliable and ambiguous. We also document the presence of disparities in noncognitive traits across racial and ethnic groups. These characteristics have been shown elsewhere to be important for explaining the labor market outcomes of adults. This evidence points to the importance of early (preschool) family factors and environments in explaining both cognitive and noncognitive ability differentials by ethnicity and race. Policies that foster both types of ability are far more likely to be effective in promoting racial and ethnic equality for most groups than are additional civil rights and affirmative action policies targeted at the workplace.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10068.

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Date of creation: Nov 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Carneiro, Pedro, James J. Heckman and Dimitriy V. Masterov. "Labor Market Discrimination and Racial Differences In Premarket Factors," Journal of Law and Economics, 2005, v48(1,Apr), 1-39.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10068
Note: LS
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  1. Eliana Garces & Duncan Thomas & Janet Currie, 2000. "Longer Term Effects of Head Start," Working Papers 00-20, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  2. James Heckman, 2011. "Policies to foster human capital," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 3, pages 73-137.
  3. Hansen, Karsten T. & Heckman, James J. & Mullen, K.J.Kathleen J., 2004. "The effect of schooling and ability on achievement test scores," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 39-98.
  4. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 2000. "School Quality and the Longer-Term Effects of Head Start," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(4), pages 755-774.
  5. Flavio Cunha & James Heckman, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," NBER Working Papers 12840, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Robert Bornholz & James J. Heckman, 2004. "Measuring Disparate Impacts and Extending Disparate Impact Doctrine to Organ Transplantation," NBER Working Papers 10946, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Derek Neal, 2004. "The Measured Black-White Wage Gap among Women Is Too Small," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S1-S28, February.
  8. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
  9. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Derek A. Neal & William R. Johnson, 1995. "The Role of Pre-Market Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," NBER Working Papers 5124, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. James J. Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explorations with a Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings with Heterogeneous Agents," NBER Working Papers 6384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. John J. Donohue III & James Heckman, 1991. "Continuous Versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," NBER Working Papers 3894, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. John Cawley & James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 1999. "On Policies To Reward The Value Added By Educators," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 720-727, November.
  14. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  15. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1999. "The Dynamics of Educational Attainment for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites," NBER Working Papers 7249, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Sandra E. Black & Amir Sufi, 2002. "Who Goes to College? Differential Enrollment by Race and Family Background," NBER Working Papers 9310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Roland G. Fryer, Jr. & Steven D. Levitt, 2002. "Understanding the Black-White Test Score Gap in the First Two Years of School," NBER Working Papers 8975, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
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