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Attention Discrimination: Theory and Field Experiments

  • Filip Matejka


Attention is scarce and reading details of applications for a job, a flat rental, or a school admission is a matter of choice. We study how the knowledge of ethnicity impacts the level of attention to an individual and how that can give rise to discrimination. We show that the choices of attention combined with differences in beliefs about ethnic groups generate discrimination even if there are no differences in taste and if information about an individual is at hand, unlike existing theories. To test the theory, we perform correspondence field experiments. We send emails responding to job offers and to advertisements of flat rental, and vary name of applicants to signal ethnicity. We find that minority names are half as likely to receive initiation for a flat visit as well as for a job interview. To investigate whether decision-makers optimize attention based on beliefs and character of selection process, we monitor inspection of information provided by applicants on their personal website and in their resume. On the housing market, where only few applicants are not invited and thus it is more beneficial to inspect groups with low expected quality, we find that landlords are more likely to inspect personal website of minority applicants and are more responsive to manipulations in available information about minority compared to majority names. The effect of minority name on attention is opposite on the labor market, where the invitation rate is low. The proposed theory explains the set of findings, and it has policy implications for both the design of the selection process as well as potential impact of affirmative-action policies.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2013 Meeting Papers with number 798.

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Date of creation: 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:red:sed013:798
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Marina Azzimonti Department of Economics Stonybrook University 10 Nicolls Road Stonybrook NY 11790 USA
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