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Toward an Understanding of Why People Discriminate: Evidence from a Series of Natural Field Experiments


  • Uri Gneezy
  • John List
  • Michael K. Price


Social scientists have presented evidence that suggests discrimination is ubiquitous: women, nonwhites, and the elderly have been found to be the target of discriminatory behavior across several labor and product markets. Scholars have been less successful at pinpointing the underlying motives for such discriminatory patterns. We employ a series of field experiments across several market and agent types to examine the nature and extent of discrimination. Our exploration includes examining discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, race, and disability. Using data from more than 3000 individual transactions, we find evidence of discrimination in each market. Interestingly, we find that when the discriminator believes the object of discrimination is controllable, any observed discrimination is motivated by animus. When the object of discrimination is not due to choice, the evidence suggests that statistical discrimination is the underlying reason for the disparate behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Uri Gneezy & John List & Michael K. Price, 2012. "Toward an Understanding of Why People Discriminate: Evidence from a Series of Natural Field Experiments," NBER Working Papers 17855, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17855
    Note: EEE IO LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. M. V. Lee Badgett, 1995. "The Wage Effects of Sexual Orientation Discrimination," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(4), pages 726-739, July.
    2. Joseph G. Altonji & Charles R. Pierret, 2001. "Employer Learning and Statistical Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 313-350.
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    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing

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