Does the Gig Economy Discriminate against Women? Evidence from Physicians in China
55 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2022 Last revised: 15 Aug 2022
Date Written: January 12, 2022
This paper investigates gender gaps in the gig economy in a developing country. While the gig economy has the potential to decrease gender gaps in earnings by offering greater worker flexibility, it also has the potential to exacerbate discrimination by increasing the availability and salience of information on protected group membership and by lowering consumer’s search costs to indulge their discriminatory preferences. Using novel data from a major online Chinese market for physician consultation services, I find that female physicians charge 3.3 percent lower prices and provide 10.9 percent fewer consultations than male physicians. Demand is lower for female physicians, even conditional on availability. Consistent with a model of statistical discrimination, patients penalize female physicians more for not providing information about work experience and reward them more for providing a strong positive signal about quality, such as a senior professional title. Although the platform is not gender-biased, conditional on observables, it nevertheless exacerbates gender gaps. This is because the ranking algorithm is based in part on the past volume of consultations, which amplifies the impact of discrimination by placing fewer female physicians at the top of search results. These results highlight the fact that the gig economy alone is not sufficient to eliminate the impact of consumer discrimination and reduce gender gaps in earnings. In my setting, gender gaps could be reduced by lowering the amount of information asymmetry about physician ability and altering the algorithmic design.
Keywords: Online skilled labor markets, Gender gap, Algorithm, Statistical Discrimination
JEL Classification: D83, J16, J31
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