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Studying Discrimination: Fundamental Challenges and Recent Progress

51 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2011  

Kerwin Kofi Charles

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

Jonathan Guryan

Northwestern University - Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) Program; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: June 2011

Abstract

We discuss research on discrimination against blacks and other racial minorities in labor market outcomes, highlighting fundamental challenges faced by empirical work in this area. Specifically, for work devoted to measuring whether and how much discrimination exists, we discuss how the absence of relevant data, the potential noncomparability of blacks and whites, and various conceptual concerns peculiar to race may frustrate or render impossible the application of empirical methods used in other areas of study. For work seeking to arbitrate empirically between the two main alternative theoretical explanations for such discrimination as it exists, we distinguish between indirect analyses, which do not directly study the variation in prejudice or the variation in information, the mechanisms at the heart of the two types of models we review, and direct analyses, which are more recent and much less common. We highlight problems with both approaches. Throughout, we discuss recent work, which, the various challenges notwithstanding, permits tentative conclusions about discrimination. We conclude by pointing to areas that might be fruitful avenues for future investigation.

Suggested Citation

Charles, Kerwin Kofi and Guryan, Jonathan, Studying Discrimination: Fundamental Challenges and Recent Progress (June 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17156. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1866650

Kerwin Kofi Charles (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
(773) 834-8922 (Phone)

Jonathan Guryan

Northwestern University - Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) Program ( email )

2046 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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