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Systemic Discrimination: Theory and Measurement


  • J. Aislinn Bohren
  • Peter Hull
  • Alex Imas


Economics often defines and measures discrimination as disparities arising from the direct effect of group identity. We develop new tools to model and measure systemic discrimination, which captures how discriminatory decisions in other domains—past, future, or contemporaneous—contribute to disparities in a given decision. We show that systemic discrimination can be driven by disparate signaling technologies or differential opportunities for skill development. We then propose a new measure based on a decomposition of total discrimination into direct and systemic components, and show how it can be used to estimate systemic discrimination in both experimental and observational data. We illustrate these new tools in three applications, including a novel Iterated Audit experimental paradigm with real hiring managers. The applications also identify behavioral frictions that blunt the impact of individual-level interventions and perpetuate systemic discrimination, suggesting the need for systems-based policy responses to systemic discrimination.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Aislinn Bohren & Peter Hull & Alex Imas, 2022. "Systemic Discrimination: Theory and Measurement," NBER Working Papers 29820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:29820
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    Cited by:

    1. Abel, Martin & Burger, Rulof, 2023. "Unpacking Name-Based Race Discrimination," IZA Discussion Papers 16254, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Nicolás Ajzenman & Bruno Ferman & Sant’Anna Pedro C., 2023. "Discrimination in the Formation of Academic Networks: A Field Experiment on #EconTwitter," Working Papers 235, Red Nacional de Investigadores en Economía (RedNIE).
    3. Th'eo Durandard, 2023. "Dynamic delegation in promotion contests," Papers 2308.05668,
    4. Kai Barron & Ruth K. Ditlmann & Stefan Gehrig & Sebastian Schweighofer-Kodritsch, 2024. "Explicit and Implicit Belief-Based Gender Discrimination: A Hiring Experiment," Berlin School of Economics Discussion Papers 0035, Berlin School of Economics.
    5. Barron, Kai & Ditlmann, Ruth & Gehrig, Stefan & Schweighofer-Kodritsch, Sebastian, 2020. "Explicit and implicit belief-based gender discrimination: A hiring experiment," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2020-306, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    6. Yulia Evsyukova & Felix Rusche & Wladislaw Mill, 2023. "LinkedOut? A Field Experiment on Discrimination in Job Network Formation," CRC TR 224 Discussion Paper Series crctr224_2023_482, University of Bonn and University of Mannheim, Germany.
    7. Paula Onuchic, 2022. "Recent Contributions to Theories of Discrimination," Papers 2205.05994,, revised Jun 2023.
    8. Markus Eyting, 2022. "Why do we Discriminate? The Role of Motivated Reasoning," Working Papers 2208, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.
    9. Ellen Sahlström & Mikko Silliman, 2024. "The Extent and Consequences of Teacher Biases against Immigrants," CESifo Working Paper Series 11050, CESifo.
    10. Sahlström, Ellen & Silliman, Mikko, 2024. "The Extent and Consequences of Teacher Biases against Immigrants," IZA Discussion Papers 16899, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    11. Sona Badalyan & Darya Korlyakova & Rastislav Rehak, 2023. "Disclosure Discrimination: An Experiment Focusing on Communication in the Hiring Process," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp743, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    12. Peter Andre, 2022. "Shallow Meritocracy," CRC TR 224 Discussion Paper Series crctr224_2022_318v3, University of Bonn and University of Mannheim, Germany.
    13. Åkesson, Jesper & Hahn, Robert & Metcalfe, Robert & Rasooly, Itzhak, 2022. "Race and Redistribution in the United States: An Experimental Analysis," SocArXiv 9pr34, Center for Open Science.
    14. Gawai, Vikas PD & Foltz, Jeremy D., 2023. "Discrimination in Science: Salaries of Foreign and US Born Land-Grant University Scientists," 2022 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, Anaheim, California 322134, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    15. Ewens, Michael, 2022. "Race and Gender in Entrepreneurial Finance," SocArXiv djf8z, Center for Open Science.
    16. Eyting, Markus, 2022. "Why do we discriminate? The role of motivated reasoning," SAFE Working Paper Series 356, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
    17. Hirshman, Samuel D. & Willén, Alexander, 2022. "Does Increasing Risk Widen Gender Gaps?," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 20/2022, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    18. Jan Feld & Edwin Ip & Andreas Leibbrandt & Joseph Vecci, 2022. "Identifying and Overcoming Gender Barriers in Tech: A Field Experiment on Inaccurate Statistical Discrimination," Discussion Papers 2205, University of Exeter, Department of Economics.
    19. Joshua Grossman & Julian Nyarko & Sharad Goel, 2023. "Racial bias as a multi‐stage, multi‐actor problem: An analysis of pretrial detention," Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 20(1), pages 86-133, March.
    20. Benson, Alan & Lepage, Louis-Pierre, 2023. "Learning to Discriminate on the Job," Working Paper Series 10/2023, Stockholm University, Swedish Institute for Social Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing

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