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Algorithmic Bias? An Empirical Study into Apparent Gender-Based Discrimination in the Display of STEM Career Ads

36 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2016 Last revised: 5 Aug 2017

Anja Lambrecht

London Business School

Catherine E. Tucker

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS)

Date Written: August 4, 2017

Abstract

The advent of digital decision-making by algorithms has led to questions of whether such algorithms might lead to bias or discrimination. To explore this, we use data from a field test of how an algorithm delivered a social media promotion of job opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. This ad was explicitly intended to be gender-neutral in its delivery. Empirically, however, women were far less likely to be shown the ad. We present evidence of the mechanism by which this apparent data-based discrimination occurs. The ad was not shown to fewer women because women were less likely to click on it - if women ever saw the ad, they were more likely than men to click. The ad was not shown to fewer women because the algorithm reflected likely bias in the labor markets of that country. Instead, it seems likely that the ad was shown to fewer women because younger women are a prized demographic and as a consequence are more expensive to show ads to. This means that an algorithm which simply optimizes ad delivery to be cost-effective, will deliver ads that were intended to be gender-neutral in what appears to be a discriminatory way, due to crowding out.

Keywords: Online Advertising, Algorithmic Bias, Social Media

Suggested Citation

Lambrecht, Anja and Tucker, Catherine E., Algorithmic Bias? An Empirical Study into Apparent Gender-Based Discrimination in the Display of STEM Career Ads (August 4, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2852260 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2852260

Anja Lambrecht (Contact Author)

London Business School ( email )

Regent's Park
London, NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

Catherine E. Tucker

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS) ( email )

100 Main St
E62-536
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://cetucker.scripts.mit.edu

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