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Prejudice and The Economics of Discrimination

  • Kerwin Kofi Charles
  • Jonathan Guryan

This paper tests the predictions about the relationship between racial prejudice and racial wage gaps from Becker's (1957) seminal work on employer discrimination - something which has not previously been done in the large economics discrimination literature. Using rich data on racial prejudice from the General Social Survey, we find strong support for all of the key predictions from Becker about the relationship between prejudice and racial wage gaps. In particular, we show that, relative to white wages, black wages: (a) vary negatively with a measure of the prejudice of the "marginal" white in a state; (b) vary negatively with the prejudice in the lower tail of the prejudice distribution, but are unaffected by the prejudice of the most prejudiced persons in a state; and (c) vary negatively with the fraction of a state that is black. We show that these results are robust to a variety of extensions, including directly controlling for racial skill quality differences and instrumental variables estimates. We present some initial evidence to show that racial wage gaps are larger the more racially integrated is a state's workforce, also as Becker's model predicts. The paper also briefly discusses familiar criticisms and extensions of the standard Becker model, including an argument of our own which, like some recent work, shows that the model's main predictions can be shown theoretically to survive the effects of long run competition.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13661.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13661.

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Date of creation: Dec 2007
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Publication status: published as Kerwin Kofi Charles & Jonathan Guryan, 2008. "Prejudice and Wages: An Empirical Assessment of Becker's The Economics of Discrimination," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(5), pages 773-809, October.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13661
Note: LS
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  1. Rosen, Sherwin, 1987. "The theory of equalizing differences," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 12, pages 641-692 Elsevier.
  2. 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.
  3. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," NBER Working Papers 9938, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. O'Neill, June, 1990. "The Role of Human Capital in Earnings Differences between Black and White Men," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 25-45, Fall.
  5. Nardinelli, Clark & Simon, Curtis, 1990. "Customer Racial Discrimination in the Market for Memorabilia: The Case of Baseball," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(3), pages 575-95, August.
  6. Oettinger, Gerald S, 1996. "Statistical Discrimination and the Early Career Evolution of the Black-White Wage Gap," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(1), pages 52-78, January.
  7. Goldberg, Matthew S, 1982. "Discrimination, Nepotism, and Long-Run Wage Differentials," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(2), pages 307-19, May.
  8. James J. Heckman, 1998. "Detecting Discrimination," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 101-116, Spring.
  9. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis R, 1989. "Black Economic Progress after Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 519-64, June.
  10. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-61, September.
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