Tag Archives: statistical discrimination

Thomas Sowell’s interview with Ben Shapiro


Why is the Swedish gender wage gap so stubbornly stable (and high)?

The Swedes are supposed to be in a left-wing utopia. Welfare state, ample childcare and long maternity leave but their gender wage gap is almost as bad as in 1980. They must be a misogynist throwback.

swedish gender wage gap by percentile

Maybe Megan McArdle can explain:

There are countries where more women work than they do here, because of all the mandated leave policies and subsidized childcare — but the U.S. puts more women into management than a place like Sweden, where women work mostly for the government, while the private sector is majority-male.

A Scandinavian acquaintance describes the Nordic policy as paying women to leave the home so they can take care of other peoples’ aged parents and children. This description is not entirely fair, but it’s not entirely unfair, either; a lot of the government jobs involve coordinating social services that women used to provide as homemakers.

The Swedes pay women not to pursue careers. The subsidies from government from mixing motherhood  and work are high. Albrecht et al., (2003) hypothesized that the generous parental leave a major in the glass ceiling in Sweden based on statistical discrimination:

Employers understand that the Swedish parental leave system gives women a strong incentive to participate in the labour force but also encourages them to take long periods of parental leave and to be less flexible with respect to hours once they return to work. Extended absence and lack of flexibility are particularly costly for employers when employees hold top jobs. Employers therefore place relatively few women in fast-track career positions.

Women, even those who would otherwise be strongly career-oriented, understand that their promotion possibilities are limited by employer beliefs and respond rationally by opting for more family-friendly career paths and by fully utilizing their parental leave benefits. The equilibrium is thus one of self-confirming beliefs.

Women may “choose” family-friendly jobs, but choice reflects both preferences and constraints. Our argument is that what is different about Sweden (and the other Scandinavian countries) is the constraints that women face and that these constraints – in the form of employer expectations – are driven in part by the generosity of the parental leave system

Most countries have less generous family subsidies so Claudia Goldin’s usual explanation applies to their falling gender wage gaps

Quite simply the gap exists because hours of work in many occupations are worth more when given at particular moments and when the hours are more continuous. That is, in many occupations earnings have a nonlinear relationship with respect to hours. A flexible schedule comes at a high price, particularly in the corporate, finance and legal worlds.

Drug testing helps minority job applicants @jacindaardern

Statistical discrimination is a harsh mistress. If reliable measures of the quality of job applicants are unavailable for short-listing, such as credit checks, coarser, less reliable screening devices will be employed. That was the case when credit checks were prohibited in employment recruitment:

Looking at 74 million job listings between 2007 and 2013, Clifford and Shoag found that employers started to become pickier, especially in cities where there were a lot of workers with low credit scores. If a credit-check ban went into effect, job postings were more likely to ask for a bachelor’s degree, and to require additional years of experience.

There are other ways that employers could have also become more discerning, Shoag says. They might have started to rely on referrals or recommendations to make sure that applicants were high-quality. In the absence of credit information to establish trustworthiness, they may even have fallen back on racial stereotypes to screen candidates. The researchers couldn’t measure these tactics, but they’re possibilities.

Drug testing allows employers to dispel less accurate stereotypes about drug use among different ethnic and social groups. They increased hiring of minorities because a reliable measure became available of their drug use:

…after a pro-testing law is passed in a state, African-American employment increases in sectors that have high testing rates (mining, manufacturing, transportation, utilities, and government).

These increases are substantial: African-American employment in these industries increases by 7-30%. Because these industries tend to pay wage premia and to have larger firms offering better benefits, African-American wages and benefits coverage also increase. Real wages increase by 1.4-13% relative to whites. The largest shifts in employment and wages occur for low skilled African-American men.

I also find suggestive evidence that employers substitute white women for African-Americans in the absence of testing. Gains in hiring African-Americans in these sectors may have come at the expense of women, particularly in states with large African-American populations.

Employers test for drug use both for health and safety reasons and as a way of screening out less reliable employees. People who break the rules are not reliable employees and that includes taking drugs. In low skill jobs, what employers seek is a recruit who is friendly and reliable.


Testing of the skills of workers also showed similar results. What happened is that the ratio of black to white hirings do not change. The administration of these skills tests allowed the more productive of both white and black job applicants to be identified and hired.

Employers already had an accurate stereotype of the average skills of different ethnic groups. Administration of tests allow them to identify which members of each group were the most productive.

It is a standard result that statistical discrimination improves the chances of below-average applicants subject to the stereotype but harms those of above average quality. For that reason, applicants look for what methods of counter-signalling to show that they are indeed a quality applicant – make themselves stand out from the crowd.

Employers profit from developing screening devices that go beyond stereotypes to identify above-average applicants. They want screening devices that find those who do not otherwise stand out from the crowd because of difficulties in transferring credible information about their quality. This is a special difficulty with low-skilled vacancies because hiring is made based much more than on character than experience.

There is rampant height discrimination in the movie business?

Spare me the conspiracy theories. When an actor or actress walks into a scene, the first impression of the audience is not supposed to be about how tall they are or how they differ in height from those already on the stage or film set.

This casting decision can be deliberate or simply that actors who do not differ as much in height seem to work well together and have more successful careers because of better rapport.