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Job assignment and promotion under statistical discrimination: evidence from the early careers of lawyers

  • Lehmann, Jee-Yeon

Minorities continue to be severely underrepresented at the top levels of most occupations despite making dramatic gains in initial access to them. This fact is particularly striking in the legal profession where blacks are well represented in each associate class yet face significantly lower probabilities of making partner. To explain this divergence in the career paths of blacks and whites, I develop a dynamic model of statistical discrimination in which firms diversify their workforce by lowering the hiring standard for blacks. Despite such a diversity goal at hiring, task assignment and promotion decisions are not constrained by this policy. In this institutional setting, the model predicts that although blacks are more likely to be hired compared to observably similar whites, they are more likely to be placed in worse tasks and less likely to be promoted conditional on the same set of observables. However, conditional on task assignment, blacks and whites face similar promotion rates. I test the model's predictions using new data from the After the JD study -- a unique longitudinal survey tracking the professional lives of more than 4,000 lawyers. Compared to whites of similar credentials, blacks are much more likely to be hired into the best law firms. However, they are assigned to worse tasks and are less likely to be a partner. This black-white difference in promotion rates can be explained by quality differences in task assignments early in the associates' careers even controlling for measures of effort and career preferences. Results from this paper provide a unique explanation for the underrepresentation of minorities at the top of professional ladders by revealing how incompatible strategies in job assignment can reduce the number of minority promotions compared to the case without affirmative action.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 33466.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:33466
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  1. Kevin Lang & Jee-Yeon K. Lehmann, 2011. "Racial Discrimination In The Labor Market: Theory And Empirics," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2011-019, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  2. Christopher Avery & Susan Athey & Peter Zemsky, 2000. "Mentoring and Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 765-786, September.
  3. Suman Ghosh & Michael Waldman, 2010. "Standard promotion practices versus up-or-out contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 41(2), pages 301-325.
  4. James B. Rebitzer & Lowell J. Taylor, 2006. "When Knowledge is an Asset: Explaining the Organizational Structure of Large Law Firms," NBER Working Papers 12583, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Francine D. Blau & Jed DeVaro, 2006. "New Evidence on Gender Difference in Promotion Rates: An Empirical Analysis of a Sample of New Hires," NBER Working Papers 12321, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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.
  7. Landers, Renee M & Rebitzer, James B & Taylor, Lowell J, 1996. "Rat Race Redux: Adverse Selection in the Determination of Work Hours in Law Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 329-48, June.
  8. James B. Rebitzer & Lowell J. Taylor, 1991. "Do Labor Markets Provide Enough Short Hour Jobs? An Analysis of Work Hours and Work Incentives," NBER Working Papers 3883, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Winter-Ebmer, Rudolf & Zweimuller, Josef, 1997. "Unequal Assignment and Unequal Promotion in Job Ladders," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 43-71, January.
  10. Fryer, Roland, 2007. "Belief Flipping in a Dynamic Model of Statistical Discrimination," Scholarly Articles 2955768, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  11. Hanming Fang & Andrea Moro, 2010. "Theories of Statistical Discrimination and Affirmative Action: A Survey," NBER Working Papers 15860, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. David Bjerk, 2008. "Glass Ceilings or Sticky Floors? Statistical Discrimination in a Dynamic Model of Hiring and Promotion," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(530), pages 961-982, 07.
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