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Employer Learning and Statistical Discrimination

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  • Joseph G. Altonji
  • Charles R. Pierret

Abstract

We provide a test for statistical discrimination or rational stereotyping in in environments in which agents learn over time. Our application is to the labor market. If profit maximizing firms have limited information about the general productivity of new workers, they may choose to use easily observable characteristics such as years of education to 'statistically discriminate' among workers. As firms acquire more information about a worker, pay will become more dependent on actual productivity and less dependent on easily observable characteristics or credentials that predict productivity. Consider a wage equation that contains both the interaction between experience and a hard to observe variable that is positively related to productivity and the interaction between experience and a variable that firms can easily observe, such as years of education. We show that the wage coefficient on the unobservable productivity variable should rise with time in the labor market and the wage coefficient on education should fall. We investigate this proposition using panel data on education, the AFQT test, father's education, and wages for young men and their siblings from NLSY. We also examine the empirical implications of statistical discrimination on the basis of race. Our results support the hypothesis of statistical discrimination, although they are inconsistent with the hypothesis that firms fully utilize the information in race. Our analysis has wide implications for the analysis of the determinants of wage growth and productivity and the analysis of statistical discrimination in the labor market and elsewhere.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph G. Altonji & Charles R. Pierret, 1997. "Employer Learning and Statistical Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 6279, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6279
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kevin M. Murphy & Finis Welch, 1992. "The Structure of Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 285-326.
    2. Joseph G. Altonji & Charles R. Pierret, "undated". "Employer Learning and the Signaling Value of Education," IPR working papers 96-11, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
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    5. Kevin Lang, 1986. "A Language Theory of Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 101(2), pages 363-382.
    6. Becker, Gary S., 1971. "The Economics of Discrimination," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 2, number 9780226041162.
    7. Henry S. Farber & Robert Gibbons, 1996. "Learning and Wage Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(4), pages 1007-1047.
    8. Albrecht, James W., 1981. "A procedure for testing the signalling hypothesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 123-132, February.
    9. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-266, May.
    10. Lundberg, Shelly J & Startz, Richard, 1983. "Private Discrimination and Social Intervention in Competitive Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 340-347, June.
    11. George J. Borjas, 1992. "Ethnic Capital and Intergenerational Mobility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 123-150.
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    1. Violence, race, and idle research Ideas
      by Noel Maurer in The Power and the money on 2010-08-07 06:20:21

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Brunello, Giorgio & Comi, Simona, 2004. "Education and earnings growth: evidence from 11 European countries," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 75-83, February.
    3. Eliasson, Tove, 2013. "Decomposing immigrant wage assimilation - the role of workplaces and occupations," Working Paper Series, Center for Labor Studies 2013:6, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    4. Anne-Marie Daune-Richard & Pierre Béret & Arnaud Dupray & Christine Fournier & Stéphanie Moullet, 2002. "Les disparités de carrières des hommes et des femmes : accès à l'emploi, mobilités et salaires," Working Papers halshs-00005795, HAL.
    5. Donal O'Neill & Olive Sweetman & Dirk van de Gaer, 2000. "Estimating Counterfactual Densities: An application to Black-White Wage Differentials in the U.S," Economics, Finance and Accounting Department Working Paper Series n1040600, Department of Economics, Finance and Accounting, National University of Ireland - Maynooth.
    6. David Neumark & Harry Holzer, 2000. "Assessing Affirmative Action," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(3), pages 483-568, September.
    7. Pinkston, Joshua C., 2003. "Screening discrimination and the determinants of wages," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(6), pages 643-658, December.
    8. Luojia Hu & Christopher Taber, 2005. "Layoffs, Lemons, Race, and Gender," NBER Working Papers 11481, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Havet, Nathalie, 2004. "Écarts salariaux et disparités professionnelles entre sexes : développements théoriques et validité empirique," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 80(1), pages 5-39, Mars.
    10. David Neumark, 1998. "Labor Market Information and Wage Differentials by Race and Sex," NBER Working Papers 6573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Kate Antonovics & Brian G. Knight, 2009. "A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 163-177, February.
    12. Barr & Oduro, Abena, 2000. "Ethnicity and wage determination in Ghana," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2506, The World Bank.
    13. Carlsson, Magnus & Fumarco, Luca & Rooth, Dan-Olof, 2013. "Artifactual evidence of discrimination in correspondence studies? A replication of the Neumark method," POLIS Working Papers 172, Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice - POLIS.
    14. Balsa, Ana I. & McGuire, Thomas G., 2001. "Statistical discrimination in health care," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(6), pages 881-907, November.
    15. Tricia Lynn Gladden & Christopher R. Taber, 1999. "Wage Progression Among Less Skilled Workers," JCPR Working Papers 72, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    16. Peter Thompson & Mihaela Pintea, 2005. "Technological Complexity, R&D and Education: Some Pleasant Arithmetic," Computing in Economics and Finance 2005 185, Society for Computational Economics.
    17. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pc:p:3143-3259 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Mihaela Iulia Pintea & Peter Thompson, 2007. "Technological Complexity and Economic Growth," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(2), pages 276-293, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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